In an exclusive interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Lon Snowden – father of NSA leaker Edward Snowden – said he has received a visa to travel to Russia to visit his son, while rejecting the notion of a plea deal for his son to return to the United States.
Lon Snowden and his lawyer, Bruce Fein, said they plan to make the trip to visit Snowden in Russia “very soon.”
“We have visas, we have a date, which we won’t disclose right now because of the frenzy,” Fein said on “This Week.” “We intend to visit with Edward and suggest criminal defense attorneys who have experience in criminal espionage act prosecutions.”
Fein added that Edward Snowden’s Russian attorney said “he’s safe” and “obviously is exhausted. But he’s now needing a period of time where he can recoup his energy level and reflect on what he wishes to do going forward.”
On “This Week” Sunday, Lon Snowden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he would not be open to a plea deal with U.S. authorities for his son to return to the U.S., saying Edward Snowden should instead fight espionage charges in court.
“I can tell you that I’m not open to it and that’s what I’ll share with my son in terms of a plea deal,” Lon Snowden said. “At this point, what I would like is for this to be vetted in open court for the American people to have all the facts. What I have seen is much political theater.”
“Where my son chooses to live the rest of his life is going to be his decision,” Snowden added, “but I would like, at some point in time, for him to be able to come back to the U.S.”
Russia granted temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, who had been hiding out in Moscow airport since late June, despite demands to return the 30-year-old former NSA contractor to the United States to face espionage charges, after he grabbed headlines by revealing top-secret information about U.S. surveillance operations to The Guardian and The Washington Post.
Lon Snowden criticized President Obama and congressional leaders for their reactions to his son’s leaks of classified documents, while calling the President’s NSA reform plans “superficial.”
On Friday, President Obama announced a series of measures that he hoped would rein in extensive classified surveillance programs and quell the public outcry that has followed Edward Snowden’s historic disclosures.
“I was disappointed in the president’s press conference,” Snowden said. “I believe that’s driven by his clear understanding that the American people are absolutely unhappy with what they’ve learned and that more is going to be forthcoming… I believe that much of what he suggested is superficial.”
Snowden’s father told Stephanopoulos that he did not accept criticisms of his son’s actions from President Obama or congressional leaders such as Intelligence Committee member Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
“What I would say is that my son has spoken the truth,” Lon Snowden said. “He has sacrificed more than either the President of the United States or Peter King have ever in their political careers or their American lives.”
In his press conference Friday, President Obama said he didn’t think Snowden is a patriot, and said he should be returned to the U.S. to face trial. Though the President said he “called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks,” he acknowledged Snowden’s disclosures of top-secret details “triggered a much more rapid and passionate response.”
“Mr. Snowden’s been charged with three felonies,” Obama said Friday. “If in fact he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case.”
But Snowden’s father said he has concerns over his son’s ability to receive a fair trial in the U.S., saying government officials have prematurely labeled his son a criminal.
“As a father, I want my son to come home if I believe that the justice system that we should be afforded as Americans is going to be applied correctly,” Lon Snowden said. “At this point, when you consider many of the statements made by our leaders, leaders in Congress, they are absolutely irresponsible and inconsistent with our system of justice. They have poisoned the well, so to speak, in terms of a potential jury pool.”
Edward Snowden’s father also questioned whether his son would have received a fair hearing if he had brought concerns about the NSA’s surveillance programs to members of Congress rather than leaking them to the public.
“We have seen how they reacted, even when the truth comes out, they spin the truth, they try to hide it from the American people,” Lon Snowden said. “He would have been buried under the capital. And we would have never known the truth.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., disagreed, saying on “This Week” that he believes Edward Snowden would have “gotten a fair hearing” had he come to Congress, but his leaks have now undermined national security.
“In my view, Ed Snowden is a fugitive who deserve to be in an American courtroom, not in asylum in Russia,” Menendez said on “This Week” Sunday. “I don’t think he needed to undermine America’s national security to pursue whatever he thought his conscience led him to do.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce, R-Calif., agreed, saying on “This Week” that “when you have someone who is giving out the means and methods in which we’re tracking Al Qaeda, it is a problem for the United States.”
“Going to China and going to Russia was not the solution to the problem. It compounds our difficulties in the United States with respect to Al Qaeda,” said Royce, who added he believes Snowden “could get a fair trial in the United States” if he returned.
Both Menendez and Royce also questioned Russia’s role, with Royce saying Russian President Vladimir Putin has “not been an ally.” Last week, the White House announced that President Obama would postpone a planned summit scheduled with Putin next month.
“The administration has tried to engage him on several issues such as missile defense, and has worked with him on trade issues,” Royce said. “And we have not seen any reciprocation from the Russians on this, because this former KGB agent still has a sense of hostility to the West and to the United States.”
“We seem to be more invested in this effort to create a relationship with Russia that can be productive for both countries more than Putin is,” Menendez added. “It’s time to pause and think about what this relationship is going to be and how we are going to pursue it, in a way that ultimately promotes the national interests and security of the United States.”
Rhaina Cohen and Grey Korhonen contributed to this report.
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