Obama administration officials on Wednesday made clear they are not willing to drop the charges against Edward Snowden as part of a deal allowing him to return to the United States.
Secretary of State John Kerry and other State Department officials indicated that if Snowden returned to his home country, he would have to trust his fate to the U.S. judicial system. That’s a clear sign the government is in no mood to bargain with the whistleblower who leaked information about the National Security Agency’s broad collection of phone data on millions of Americans.
In a television interview Wednesday morning, Kerry encouraged Snowden to return to the U.S. and “make his case to the American people” in the context of a court proceeding.
“The fact is if he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust in the American system of justice,” Kerry said.
A State Department spokesperson told TheBlaze that Snowden is not a human rights activist or a political dissident, but someone who has been charged with three crimes. The spokesperson said Snowden’s best option is to return and let the system work.
“Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States,” the spokesperson said. “He should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process.”
Snowden has been formally charged with releasing classified data to unauthorized parties, revealing intelligence information, and stealing government property.
The State Department’s hardline position against a negotiation comes just days after the German publication Der Spiegel reported that lawyers for Snowden are trying to negotiate his return to the United States.
Wolfgang Kaleck, a lawyer for Snowden in Germany, told the paper that “there are negotiations,” according to an unofficial translation of the story.
Kaleck said that “an amicable solution with the U.S. authorities would be the most sensible,” according to the unofficial translation. He also indicated that Snowden could return to the U.S. through Germany.
But the story gave no indication whether Snowden is willing to subject himself to a U.S. court, and didn’t explain what other flexibilities Snowden might be seeking in exchange for his return.
Snowden fled to Russia after revealing the scope of the NSA’s surveillance activities against millions of people. That leak immediately created two political camps — one that said Snowden should be charged as a traitor, and another that said Snowden should be seen as a hero for revealing a program that most Americans hotly opposed.
Despite that split over Snowden’s tactics, most agree the NSA overreached when it began its huge surveillance effort. And just last week, the House easily passed legislation that would end the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data, and require the government to make specific requests about the kinds of data it’s seeking.
That bill passed 303-121, after members of both parties offered support for it, and after several others said Congress needs to go even further to rein in the NSA.
“We’re here today because the government misapplied the law, and upset the balance between privacy and security that we had fought to preserve 13 years ago,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the bill’s sponsor.