While the remaining GOP candidates have spoken out against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, calling him a “traitor,” the United States government has yet to formally charge him with treason.
Federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against the former NSA contractor in June 2013, after he leaked a collection of mass surveillance documents, which revealed to the public that the NSA was collecting the phone records of American civilians.
The complaint stated that Snowden is facing a charge of “theft of government property,” along with charges of “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person,” which were both brought under the Espionage Act or 1917.
However, Snowden is not facing charges of treason. Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution defines “treason” as:
“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.”
The Washington Post noted that under this definition, the U.S. government would have to “demonstrate that Snowden was actively trying to provide aid and comfort to a specific entity, such as al-Qaeda, with which the U.S. is at war,” and it would have to find two witnesses who “observed Snowden leaking the information.”
Despite the fact that Snowden is not facing treason charges, the remaining GOP candidates have openly called him a “traitor.”
During the GOP Debate hosted by Fox New Thursday night, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was asked why he did not immediately condemn Snowden when the documents were leaked in 2013.
“You were open to the possibility that Edward Snowden had performed a considerable public service, you said back then, in revealing certain aspects of the NSA procedures,” Fox News host Bret Bair said. “Many of your colleagues in the Senate, including Senator Rubio, called him a traitor. It took you until January of this year to call him a traitor and say he should be tried for treason. Why the change of heart? And why did it take you so long?”
Cruz insisted that when the leaks were first reported, it was unclear whether Snowden had committed treason, and he said that since then it has become clear that Snowden’s leaks provided “aid and comfort to the enemies of America,” by making it “easier for terrorists to avoid detection.”
“When the news first broke of the United States government engaging in massive surveillance on American citizens, that was a very troubling development, and it’s why the United States Congress acted to correct it. Now, at the same time, I said in that initial statement that if the evidence indicated that Edward Snowden violated the law, he should be prosecuted for violating the law. And, indeed, since then, the evidence is clear that not only does Snowden violate the law, but it appears he committed treason. Treason is defined under the Constitution as giving aid and comfort to the enemies of America, and what Snowden did made it easier for terrorists to avoid detection.”
Business mogul Donald Trump chimed in and said Snowden was a “spy and we should get him back,” insisting that because Russia granted asylum to Snowden, it shows a lack of respect for the U.S. This follows previous comments in July 2013, when Trump called Snowden a “terrible traitor,” and said that he should be killed.
During a campaign forum in August 2015, Ohio Gov. John Kasich called Snowden a “traitor” for releasing classified information.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has called Snowden a “traitor” on multiple occasions, claiming in Nov. 2013 that the “intelligence programs” used by the NSA were necessary, and show not be deterred y the “conspiracy theories sparked by Edward Snowden.”
“We must respond to the valid concerns of Americans, who are alarmed by reports regarding their civil liberties,” Rubio said. “But we must also distinguish these reasonable concerns from conspiracy theories sparked by Edward Snowden. This man is a traitor who has sought assistance and refuge from some of the world’s most notorious violators of liberty and human rights.”