Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul believes Edward Snowden deserves some punishment for leaking classified documents about government surveillance, though he says it should be less than what some of his fellow Republicans have called for against the former National Security Agency worker.
During the convention of the Republican Liberty Caucus on Friday, a college student asked Paul whether he would pardon Snowden if elected president. The ballroom in Nashua, New Hampshire, quickly fell silent as Paul joked, "There's always got to be an easy question."
Some libertarians have called for Snowden to be pardoned. Paul's own father and one-time presidential candidate, Ron Paul, has praised Snowden in the past and supported a petition asking for clemency.
Snowden is currently living in exile in Russia and recently joined Twitter.
“I know most people would want me to say yes [to pardoning Snowden] and part of me says yes and part of me says we cannot have no rules,” Paul said. "We do have secrets -- maybe too many -- but we do have secrets that need to be protected. We have operatives who try to risk our lives to defend our country and he [Snowden] didn’t reveal that, but you don’t want people to reveal things like that.”
Paul said Snowden did something that some see value in: revealing a surveillance program that may have gone hidden were it not for the leak.
"He revealed a program that we probably would’ve never known about had not he revealed it because the government was lying to us," he said. "So in many ways, you could call him a whistle-blower.”
Paul said Snowden deserves some sort of punishment, but not a severe penalty like some of his fellow Republicans have called for.
"I think the best compromise on it is that there would be some penalty but that people who are going nuts -- which includes half the people in our party, wanting to execute him, shoot him, chop his head off, all this crazy stuff -- they’re completely wrong," he said. "I think there could be some accommodation. I think he would actually serve some sentence if it were reasonable and were negotiated."
The college student who asked the question, 18-year-old Jake Soraghan, said he believed Snowden should be pardoned and hoped Paul would support that. He added he knew he was asking a tough question of his favorite presidential candidate.
"Even if you support someone, I think you got to give them the tough questions," Soraghan said. "He gave a decent answer."