Lawyers working with Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower who received sanctuary in Russia after fleeing the US, have vowed to step up pressure on Barack Obama’s administration for a presidential pardon.
“We’re going to make a very strong case between now and the end of this administration that this is one of those rare cases for which the pardon power exists,” Ben Wizner, the ACLU lawyer who is Snowden’s principal legal adviser, told New York magazine in a cover story published late on Sunday.
“It’s not for when somebody didn’t break the law. It’s for when they did and there are extraordinary reasons for not enforcing the law against the person.”
Snowden, however, conceded that Obama is unlikely to offer such a pardon before he leaves office.
“There is an element of absurdity to it,” he said. “More and more, we see the criticisms levelled toward this effort are really more about indignation than they are about concern for real harm.”
The comments were reported in lengthy article about Snowden’s use of a “Snowbot”, technically a BeamPro robot, to appear at US galleries and events. The Snowbot is a $14,000 machine that consists of a flatscreen monitor and camera atop a moving base.
From a home studio in Moscow, the magazine reported, the former NSA contractor can control the Snowbot with his computer, moving around and swiveling to make eye contact with people as they speak.
“I’m able to actually have influence on the issues that I care about, the same influence I didn’t have when I was sitting at the NSA,” Snowden said.
The Snowbot, he said, has given him a degree of autonomy.
“There’s always that initial friction, that moment where everybody’s like, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’ but then it melts away. Regardless of the fact that the FBI has a field office in New York, I can be hanging out in New York museums.”
The Snowbot was sourced by Wizner, but it has found an enthusiastic audience amongst the whistleblower’s supporters. In the New York magazine piece Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists to whom in 2013 Snowden leaked thousands of NSA files, imagines him – or it – “let loose in the parking lot of [NSA headquarters at] Fort Meade”.
At a recent event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Snowden used the Snowbot to tell his audience: “In an extraordinary and unpredictable way, my own circumstances show there is a model that ensures that even if we’re left without a state, we aren’t left without a voice.”
Former attorney general Eric Holder conceded last month that Snowden “actually performed a public service” and said: “I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate.”
But neither candidate to succeed Obama in the White House has shown much sign of sympathy. Hillary Clinton has said Snowden should not be allowed to return to the US without “facing the music”. In 2013, Donald Trump suggested Snowden should be executed.
Snowden told the magazine he did not expect to die in Russia.