Can Snowden Bamboozle Trump?

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Edward Snowden is displayed on a screen as he speaks during a video conference in 2019.

Photo: jorg carstensen/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Donald Trump ran for President on wiping out the Islamic State and stopping China’s economic predations. Edward Snowden’s illegal disclosures weakened America’s defenses against foreign terrorists and boosted Beijing’s cyber-espionage against the U.S.

So why are there murmurs that the President is considering a pardon for the unrepentant former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, who stole over a million American national-security documents and absconded to Hong Kong and then Moscow?

In office Mr. Trump was stung repeatedly by grandiose government leakers who thought they stood above the democratic process. That description also fits Mr. Snowden, who never formally registered complaints about U.S. intelligence policies while contracting for the government, but has since made himself a celebrity with claims of moral righteousness.

But Mr. Trump seems to be in a mood to break things as his term comes to a close, and Mr. Snowden’s defenders have sought to appeal to the President’s suspicion of the U.S. intelligence agencies to entice him toward a midnight pardon. The likes of Roger Stone and Senator Rand Paul suggest that Mr. Snowden is a useful figure in Mr. Trump’s campaign against the intelligence establishment.

It would be a travesty if the President fell for this. The victims of Snowden-style treachery are ordinary Americans, not Mr. Trump’s “deep state” foes. A pardon for Mr. Snowden’s behavior would invite more of it.

Mr. Trump has supported law enforcement, but if intelligence methods can be stolen with impunity, border security and drug enforcement would be weakened. Mr. Trump can boast of confronting China’s abuses, but Mr. Snowden stole information about NSA surveillance that protects Americans from Chinese military hacks.

Perhaps Mr. Trump thinks that only his critics in the security bureaucracies see Mr. Snowden as a traitor. But a 2016 report by Rep. Devin Nunes’s House Intelligence Committee detailed Mr. Snowden’s abuses, writing that “if the Russian or Chinese governments have access to this information, American troops will be at greater risk in any future conflict.” In 2014 then- Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn told Congress that “the greatest cost” from Mr. Snowden’s leaks would likely be “human lives on tomorrow’s battlefield.”

Mr. Trump divides the world into friends and enemies, and it’s true that officials in America’s intelligence apparatus have attacked him throughout his Presidency. The promotion of Trump-Russia conspiracies by the likes of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan will undermine those agencies’ credibility with tens of millions of Americans for years.

If the President is persuaded to give Mr. Snowden a reprieve, their behavior will have helped create the political cover for him to do so. Yet the responsibility for betraying the security of the American people would rest on his shoulders alone.

William Barr returned to the Department of Justice in 2019 to stop it being used as a political weapon. He succeeded because he was willing to reimpose norms amid a sea of partisan critics. Image: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

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