Rand Paul: Edward Snowden doesn't deserve the death penalty

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., March 14, 2013.
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., March 14, 2013.

Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden does not deserve the death penalty or life in prison even though he broke the law in leaking thousands of classified documents outlining U.S. surveillance programs.

“I think that’s inappropriate and I think that’s why he fled, because that’s what he faced,” Paul said on Face the Nation.

Paul, a libertarian and potential 2016 presidential candidate, said Friday he plans to lead a class action lawsuit against the NSA over its data collection programs. Paul claims that hundreds of thousands of supporters have signed on to his lawsuit thanks to the information brought to light by the former NSA contractor.

Snowden released troves of secret documents last summer, exposing the massive scope of the United States’ surveillance programs. Snowden is currently in exile in Russia after the U.S. Department of Justice in June filed a criminal complaint charging him of violating the Espionage Act.

“I think, really, in the end,” Paul told ABC, “history’s going to judge that he revealed great abuses of our government and great abuses of our intelligence community.”

The impact of Snowden’s leak continues to reverberate across U.S. soil and abroad as more and more classified information is unearthed. The issue has grown into a contentious debate that has split some lawmakers and formed other unlikely alliances. Earlier this week, The New York Times editorial board called on the Obama administration to offer Snowden a plea bargain or clemency for “the enormous value of information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed.”

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer disagreed with his Republican colleague on ABC’s This Week, saying that Snowden raised many questions about the size and scope of America’s national security programs – questions that should be addressed in a trial.

“I disagree with Rand Paul that we should plea-bargain with [Snowden] prior to him coming back,” Schumer said on ABC Sunday. The New York Democrat said if Snowden believed he is joining the “grand tradition of civil disobedience in this country,” then he should stand for trial.

“It is a grand tradition,” Schumer said. “Part of that tradition is, you pay the consequences. If you break the law because your conscience says you have to, you stand trial.”

Paul instead took shots at National Intelligence chief James Clapper, saying the intel director deserved jail time for lying to Congress about the NSA’s collection programs.

"So I think, personally, [Snowden] probably would come home for some penalty of a few years in prison, which would be probably not unlike what James Clapper probably deserves for lying to Congress," Paul said, "and that maybe if they served in a prison cell together, we'd become further enlightened as a country over what we should and shouldn't do."