WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Saturday that he's considering granting a pardon to whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“I’m going to take a look at that very strongly,” Trump said during a news conference at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, has been living in exile in Moscow since fleeing the U.S. six years ago after leaking information on the nation's most secretive spy agencies and their programs. His revelations triggered a debate over government eavesdropping, with some hailing him as a hero and others calling him a traitor.
Trump said that he is “not that aware of the Snowden situation” but that people on both the left and the right are divided over the former contractor.
"It seems to be a split decision," he said. “Many people think he should be somehow treated differently, and other people think he did very bad things."
Trump raised the question of a pardon in an interview this week with the New York Post.
“There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly. I mean, I hear that,” Trump said.
The Post reported that Trump polled members of his staff about whether to let Snowden return to the U.S. from Russia without going to prison.
Trump also told the Post about Snowden: “Many people are on his side, I will say that. I don’t know him, never met him. But many people are on his side.”
In the interview, Trump justified talk of a pardon by again complaining about an FBI investigation into links between his campaign and Russians who sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. He said it was unfair that people like former FBI Director James Comey are free while Snowden is in legal limbo.
Snowden himself welcomed Trump's consideration, tweeting Friday:
"The last time we heard a White House considering a pardon was 2016, when the very same Attorney General who once charged me conceded that, on balance, my work in exposing the NSA's unconstitutional system of mass surveillance had been 'a public service.'"
Federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Snowden in 2013, charging him with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person."
In late 2016, then-President Barack Obama said he wouldn't consider a pardon until Snowden stopped running from the law.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Edward Snowden: Trump says he will consider pardon for whistleblower