Life in Russia mustn’t be all that it’s cracked up to be. At least that’s the feeling one gets when listening to Edward Snowden’s latest proclamation on a BBC Panorama interview. It seems that under the right circumstances, he would favor a jail term in the US instead of exile in Russia,
“I’ve volunteered to go to prison with the government many times. What I won’t do is I won’t serve as a deterrent to people trying to do the right thing in difficult situations.”
And he is loath to plead guilty to a felony charge as a traitor. Such charges could yield harsh penalties in the form of decades in prison, though it appears the government would be amenable to less stiff sentencing.
His representatives admit as much. In an interview with The Washington Post, Ben Wizner, an ACLU lawyer representing Snowden, confirmed this stance,
“He’s said from the beginning that he does not intend to plead guilty to felonies as a result of his act of conscience.”
President Obama, an Eagle eye focused squarely on his legacy, and eager to detract attention from his administration’s poor privacy record, may direct theJustice Department to err on the side of leniency.
This summer saw a softening to the previous hard line toward Snowden. Then-Attorney General, Eric Holder, held out the possibility of a plea bargain for the former NSA contractor turned whistleblower,
“I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with.”
Robert Litt, the chief counsel to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, has even floated a specific plea deal that included one felony count and three to five years of jail time, The sticking point seems to be in the characterization of the charges. DOJ wants to charge him with felonies, and this is a no-go to the Snowden team.
This contentious issue seems to predominate in discussions, and even, for a time, seems to have distracted Snowden’s team from the prospects for a fair, impartial trial in the US. Their concern is well-founded, as their man is facing charges under an anachronistic WWI-era Espionage law that would preclude posturing by Snowden in a grand, public defense display at trial. Snowden alluded to this,
“The Espionage Act finds anyone guilty who provides any information to the public, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. You aren’t even allowed to explain to a jury what your motivations were for revealing this information. It is simply a question of, ‘Did you reveal information?’ If (the answer is) yes, you go to prison for the rest of your life.”
With Snowden maintaining a high profile while in exile, he remains a thorn in the side of the White House, and a constant reminder of what shabby short-shrift they have paid transparency and privacy issues. They would do well to put this odious episode behind them, lest it undermine efforts by the administration to put a positive spin on Obama’s tenure, whose legacy needs all the help it can get to appear rosy… especially in the personal privacy area.