KINDERHOOK, N.Y. -- Twenty-four hours before Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont arrives in New York to campaign for congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout, her Republican opponent John Faso denounced him for a particularly in-vogue position. At a debate in Albany, Faso thundered that Sanders wanted to let "the traitor, Edward Snowden," back into the United States without prosecution. Later, in an interview at his Kinderhook home, Faso attacked Sanders again.
"This comment he made about how Snowden deserves clemency?" said Faso. "I mean, Snowden is a traitor."
Asked if he thought Snowden should be tried for treason, or whether he deserved the death penalty, Faso shook his head.
"No, no," he said. "I think that Snowden should be called to account for his actions, which were against the national security interests of the United States, and violated the oath he took. He damaged the national security interests of the country, and he may have put some of our foreign contacts in jeopardy by his actions."
But as a campaign gears up on Snowden's behalf, tied to the long-delayed Oliver Stone biopic "Snowden," Republicans are working to make sure the whistleblower remains politically toxic. They're joined by some Democrats, led by members of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, who made sure that a letter and report opposing the Snowden clemency talk — released Thursday — was unanimous.
"Snowden has long portrayed himself as a truth-seeking whistleblower whose actions were designed solely to defend privacy, and whose disclosures did no harm to the country’s security," Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking Democrat and a sought-after TV commentator, said in a statement accompanying the letter. "The Committee’s Review — a product of two years of extensive research — shows his claims to be self-serving and false, and the damage done to our national security to be profound."
In the letter, members of the committee ask President Obama to stand by his first-blush analysis of Snowden — that he was not a "patriot" and had done real damage.
"He is not a whistleblower. He is a criminal," they say. "America's intelligence professionals take Mr. Snowden's disclosures personally."
In the three years since Snowden fled the United States and the National Security Agency with 1.5 million classified documents, public opinion of the NSA has cratered, and more Americans say they prioritize privacy than at any time since the 9/11 attacks. But the sparse polling on a more limited question — whether to pardon Snowden — has found only a minority of voters ready to welcome him home.
Sanders's defeat in the 2016 primaries also ensured that the major parties' nominees would oppose clemency for Snowden. Donald Trump has alternately joked that Snowden should have hacked more information about President Obama, and argued that he should be killed. Clinton has consistently criticized Snowden and rejected the idea of clemency, inspiring some snark from Snowden himself about the relative fates of people who mishandle classified information.
Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein have both said that if elected president, they would allow Snowden to come home without facing charges.