The final days of the Obama Administration are upon us. While partisan tensions continue to rise as President-elect Donald Trump inches closer to the White House, President Obama is faced with some last minute decisions. Among those last minute decisions are presidential pardons. The President has the power to grant a pardon for a crime, which is an enormous power. It can be used to correct a wrong by overturning a bad ruling or it can also be used for more political reasons, like issuing a pardon that salvages a legacy.
Among the prominent potential pardon recipients is former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who famously exposed many surveillance programs used against the American people.
The Obama Administration has only once spoken recently in relation to Snowden when Press Secretary Josh Earnest drew a distinction between him and former Army Private First Class Chelsea Manning. When asked by a reporter about the possibility of either receiving clemency, Earnest stated that Snowden has not attempted to face justice and now resides in Russia.
Essentially, it was a carefully constructed way of the Obama Administration stating that the odds were slim. But there is a precedent for this scenario and President Obama would be wise to listen to it.
In 2001, former President Bill Clinton found himself in a similar position. He was being asked to pardon another individual, with requests ranging from politicians to academics. The subject was Samuel Loring Morison, who was prosecuted for leaking classified material to a publication.
The Central Intelligence Agency opposed the idea of pardoning Morison, likely because the individual violated the law. Not only did he release classified information to the media, but he was also found to be in a position of additional classified government documents.
On the final day of his Presidency, Clinton issued the pardon of Samuel Loring Morison.
There is a significant distinction between the scope of the leaks, but it’s important to consider the intent. Snowden didn’t leak the information to enable any enemy of the United States and he didn’t leak the information out of spite. Documents that have been acquired via Freedom of Information Act show that Snowden repeatedly attempted to have his concerns addressed internally, but his concerns largely went ignored.
What was Snowden left to do? His concerns were ignored, thus leaving his attempts to address concerns internally useless.
The government forced the former contractor into an impossible position. Would he keep his knowledge of these abuses of power to himself? The law states he cannot leak classified information, which protects reasonable programs that keep our country safe. Unfortunately, it is also extreme and excessive programs that violate the rights of innocent Americans.
Snowden took a moral stand for what he believed is right. It is important to remember as we remember Martin Luther King Jr. this week, given the Civil Rights icon himself spoke in favor of disobeying unjust laws.
The pardon of former intelligence analyst Samuel Loring Morison provides President Barack Obama with precedent for pardoning a former member of the intelligence community who leaked classified information to the media. The intent in the leaks was not to harm our nation or provide aid to our enemies.
The precedent and the power is there for President Obama to bring home Edward Snowden a free man.