House Speaker John Boehner today called NSA leaker Edward Snowden a “traitor” who put Americans at risk by releasing classified information to the media.
“He’s a traitor,” the highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said in an extensive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”
Boehner endorsed President Obama’s characterization of two programs, which allow the NSA to gather information about phone calls made in the U.S. as well as information on foreign suspects collected from major internet companies, as critical to the government’s ability to fight terrorism. He said that there are “clear safeguards” built into the programs to protect Americans.
“The president outlined last week that these were important national security programs to help keep Americans safe, and give us tools to fight the terrorist threat that we face,” Boehner said. “The president also outlined that there are appropriate safeguards in place to make sure that there’s no snooping, if you will, on Americans here at home.”
Snowden, a 29-year-old contractor with the National Security Agency, admitted that he was the source of several leaks of top secret NSA documents to the British paper, The Guardian, and the Washington Post.
After the Guardian printed its first details of the program in which the government requested and received phone records from Verizon customers, Boehner initially called on Obama to explain to the program to the American people.
He now says that he is satisfied with the way the program is being administered.
“There is heavy oversight of this program by the House Intelligence Committee on a bipartisan basis and the Senate Intelligence Committee,” Boehner said. “And that’s why I feel comfortable that we can operate this program and protect the privacy rights of our citizens.”
But when it comes to the Internal Revenue Services’ targeting of conservative groups, Boehner was less conciliatory.
He said it was “inconceivable” that Obama could not have known about the targeting, despite the president’s claim that he did not know about the outcome of an inspector general audit until the report was released publicly.
“It would be inconceivable in my operation that my staff would know it and I wouldn’t,” Boehner said. “It just doesn’t pass the straight face test. How could — how can your chief of staff — your general counsel know, and you not know?”
He said the White House has “stonewalled” requests for additional information to aid congressional investigators, but he does not believe that the directives to target conservative groups came from “some low-level employees in Cincinnati.”
Boehner: Immigration Bill Top House Priority
The House speaker also addressed comprehensive immigration reform, which is currently being debated on the Senate floor but has a more uncertain future in the House.
Boehner said he believes that passing an immigration bill in the House is the most important thing on his agenda this year. He added that he expects Obama to sign a bill by the end of the year.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll have a product come out of the committee by the end of June,” Bohener said. “I believe that it’s important for the House to work its will on this issue. And I would expect that a House bill will be to the right of where the Senate is.”
He did not say, however, whether that bill would include a pathway to citizenship for the some 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., a provision that Obama has said is essential to an immigration bill that he would be willing to sign.
Boehner also expressed concerns that the Senate’s bill, which has been largely shepherded through the Senate by a bi-partisan “Gang of Eight,” does not do enough to address border security.
“I’ve got real concerns about the Senate bill,” Boehner said. “Especially in the area of border security and internal enforcement of this system, I’m concerned that it doesn’t go far enough.”
Also on Congress’s agenda will be the debate over the need to raise the nation’s debt limit, which is expected to be reached sometime this fall.
Boehner indicated that he does not plan to waver from his insistence that an increase in the debt ceiling should be accompanied by corresponding spending cuts and reforms to entitlement programs. The White House has warned that Congress should not bargain with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.
“What I’m trying to do, George, is to leverage the political process in Washington to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices,” Boehner said.