Former President Donald Trump has said he was “very close to going the other way” on issuing a pardon for Julian Assange or Edward Snowden before he left the White House, ultimately deciding not to grant clemency to either.
During an interview with the Daily Wire’s Candace Owens this week, Trump was asked why he failed to issue pardons to WikiLeaks co-founder Assange and National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Snowden, which activists had been pushing for in the president’s final months in office.
“You have two sides of it,” Trump said. He described their separate situations as, respectively, a “sort of a spy deal going on” and “somebody that’s exposing real corruption,” but without indicating which description applied to which person, concluding only that he felt “a little bit more strongly about one than the other.”
Media reports earlier this year indicated Trump had been convinced by aides that an Assange or a Snowden pardon would upset Senate Republicans, who were gearing up to vote in his impeachment trial at the time. He also appeared to negatively reference Assange and “spying” at one point, though he did not elaborate.
“There [were] some spying things, and there [were] some bad things released that really set us back and really hurt us with what they did,” he said, according to the Daily Wire. It was alleged during the opening stages of Assange’s extradition hearing in London last year that the journalist had been offered a pardon in exchange for spinning the origin of hacked Democratic emails sent during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The White House denied the claim and said the president “barely” knew the Republican congressman through which the deal had allegedly been offered. The congressman, in turn, said he had made the proposal on his own initiative and the White House had not endorsed it.
Trump said he had ultimately decided to let the issue be handled in the courtroom. “I guess the courts are actually doing that,” he said.
Trump explains to Candace Owens why he started the prosecution of Assange and didn't pardon Assange/Snowden. pic.twitter.com/EknNzx4A4n
— V 🦑 (@Vedthalegend) December 22, 2021
Assange is currently being held in a UK prison, from where it was recently ruled he can be extradited to the US to stand trial on espionage charges for having published documents related to alleged US war crimes during the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. He faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted. His mental and physical health has deteriorated during his 20 months of incarceration, and he recently suffered a stroke.
Snowden, who has remained a fugitive from the US since whistleblowing on the NSA for unconstitutional spying on the American public in 2013, seemed a more likely candidate for a presidential pardon. The former president said last year he was “looking” at Snowden’s case, noting that many felt he had “not been treated fairly.” This about-face surprised many commentators, given that Trump had previously referred to the former NSA contractor as a “spy who should be executed.”