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Glenn Greenwald vs. Obama "Loyalist" Ruth Marcus On Clemency For Snowden

JAKE TAPPER: Joining me now is Glenn Greenwald, investigative journalist for First Look Media. He broke scoop after scoop on the NSA using information Snowden gave to him. Also with me here in studio Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post" who just wrote a piece calling Snowden a -- quote -- "insufferable whistle-blower."

Ruth, I'm going to start with you. "The Times" board also writes, "When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government."

Do you agree with "The Times" that Snowden should get some form of clemency?


In fact, I think he should have -- if he really believes in the Constitution as I wrote, he should have stuck around, tested the constitutional system, taken his punishment, argued that he was justified in the leaks that he did. He didn't. He just turned tail and fled the country.

TAPPER: Glenn, I'm sure you want to respond to that.

GLENN GREENWALD, FIRST LOOK MEDIA: I want to say two things. I think Ruth Marcus' argument exemplifies everything that's really horrible about the D.C. media.

First of all, what she said is just completely factually false. If he had stayed in the United States, as Daniel Ellsberg, widely considered to be a hero by most Americans, argued in "The Washington Post," he would have been barred from making the very argument that she just said he should have made.

Under the Espionage Act, you're not allowed to come into court and say I was justified in disclosing this information. There is no whistle- blower exception in the Espionage Act, which is why whistle-blowers don't get justice in the United States.

But I think the really important point is that people in Washington continuously make excuses for those in power when they break the law. Ruth Marcus was one of the leaders in 2008 saying that Bush officials that torture people shouldn't be prosecuted, they should be protected. She praised and protected FBI agents in the '70s who entered people's homes without warnings and were criminally prosecuted. She said they shouldn't have been prosecuted.

That's what people in Washington do. They would never call on someone like James Clapper, who got caught lying to Congress, which is a felony, to be prosecuted. They only pick on people who embarrass the government and the administration to which they are loyal like Edward Snowden. It's not about the rule of law.


MARCUS: Well, first of all, actually, I don't think -- I think James Clapper lied to Congress and I don't think that he should be in office, and I wrote a column saying exactly that.

But let's get back to...


GREENWALD: Should he be prosecuted? Should he be prosecuted?


GREENWALD: Just answer that. Should James Clapper be prosecuted? You just said the rule of law...


MARCUS: You know what? I let you make your point. Why don't you let me make my point, OK?


GREENWALD: Just answer that question. Answer that question.

MARCUS: No, I don't actually need to answer that question because then we're going to get involved in a whole conversation about what the exact elements of perjury are.


GREENWALD: It's a total double standard. That's a total double standard.


MARCUS: Let's talk about Edward Snowden, instead of calling people names and making accusations.

The fact is that look at the Ellsberg example. Yes, he wrote a very interesting column my newspaper, "The Washington Post," saying that he agreed with Snowden that Snowden should have fled.

But what did Ellsberg do? He came forward. He said he thought it was his responsibility as an American citizen, after actually he tried to get his information to the Senate and have the Senate reveal the information.

When that whistle-blowing didn't work, he took it to reporters. And so that's one big difference. And the second big difference is, he stuck around, came forward, said, fine, go ahead and prosecute me. The prosecution failed because his rights had been violated, but the system worked for him. Edward Snowden didn't give the system a chance to work for him.

TAPPER: Glenn, go ahead.

GREENWALD: First of all, why won't Ruth Marcus answer the question, should the top officials in the Obama administration, to which she's a loyalist, why shouldn't they after they got caught lying by the documents that Mr. Snowden came forward to publish -- remember, when I met him in Hong Kong, the first thing he said to me is, "I have documents proving that the top national security officials and the US Congress have been misleading the public, and lying to Congess," which is a crime. And he gave us the documents that showed the James Clapper lied when he denied that the US government was collecting data on millions of Americans.

Why won't she answer the question, should he be prosecuted for him having broken the law, just like she says Edward Snowden should be? And I'll tell you the answer: because people in Washington who are well-connected to the government like she is, do not believe that the law applies to them. They only believe that the law should be used to punish people and imprison people who don't have power in Washington or who expose the wrongdoing of American political officials.

And as far as Daniel Ellsberg is concerned, just go read what he wrote. He said the world is completely different now. The U.S. government does not allow whistleblowers like they allowed him to stay out of jail, to make their case to the public. If Edward Snowden came back to Washington before he was convicted of anything, he would be disappearing in prison and not be allowed to speak. I want to know the answer to that question, Ruth, should --


RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Why didn't Edward Snowden behave like Daniel Ellsberg and try to work through the system in order to try to get his information public? Daniel Ellsberg tried to work through the system --


MARCUS: No, he didn't. He went and complained a little bit to some of his co-workers at the NSA, he says. That's all that he did.

But let me give you an answer to the Clapper question because you seem to be focused on it, so fine, if you want to spend time doing that, we can do that. The answer to the Clapper question is -- absolutely, if federal prosecutors believe that they could make a case under the perjury statute which I know that you know as well as I do, Glenn, is a very difficult case to make that shows a knowing and material misrepresentation, then fine, go right ahead.

I don't happen to think that the criminal law is going to get you where you should go on the Clapper front, but I take a back seat to nobody in saying that I thought Clapper's testimony was false and that he should be ashamed of it and it's totally intolerable.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Glenn, let me -- let me read something to you from Josh Barro at "The Business Insider".

BARRO: Sure.

TAPPER: He tweeted this out and I just want to get your response to this. Josh wrote, "The case for clemency for Snowden is a radical case against our diplomatic and intel apparatus which people make oddly casually."

And if Snowden had only revealed the reach of NSA inside the U.S. and not divulged the methods, extent, et cetera, do you think then there would be a better case for clemency? Do you think that by going as far as he did, he undermined his ability to come back to the United States?

He could have taken -- he could have done a little bit and started the debate, is I guess the argument Josh is making.

GREENWALD: Well, first of all, the United States indicted him under espionage statutes and charged him with crimes that would put him into prison for three decades before the fourth or fifth story was even published, when just the first couple stories had been published.

Secondly, as all kinds of journalists including from Ruth's own paper have continuously pointed out, the Obama administration is more aggressive and more vindictive when it comes to punishing whistleblowers than any administration in all of American history, including the Nixon administration. All sorts of whistleblowers in the past who have come forward and used the proper channels as Ruth calls them, or disclosed only a little bit like Tom Drake have been prosecuted, have had their lives destroyed.

And the problem in Washington is, the system is designed to prevent whistleblowers from being able to get to the public what it is they want to know. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, two Democratic senators on the Intelligence Committee, already knew what Mr. Snowden made public. They've been warning the public for years that they should know about this and be alarmed about it. But even those two powerful senators were barred by the law and were too afraid to tell the people what they know.

That's why Mr. Snowden did what he did. He knew there was no way inside the system to make his fellow citizens aware of what their government was doing to their privacy.

TAPPER: Ruth, it is true that the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act --

MARCUS: Absolutely.

TAPPER: -- more to go after whistleblowers who leaked to journalists not just than any previous administration, but then more than all previous administrations combined. So, the argument that Ellsberg makes that it's a different environment than the '70s might be accurate, no?

MARCUS: Well, I think there has been an excessive use of the whistleblower -- excessive use of power against whistleblowers. And I also think because I see the world -- Glenn sees the world in black and white, I see it in gray terms, which makes me apparently a complete tool of the establishment. I think that Snowden, a piece of his disclosure, has done a public service. And so, when I look at this, I really balance the equities of how much he disclosed.

I thought Josh's point that you raised is a very good point -- perhaps if he had just told us only about the metadata program, perhaps if he had tried ways to reveal that elsewhere. The whole establishment, if you will, wouldn't be so up at arms.

But he took, he stole, let's use the right words for it, an enormous amount of data and spilled it out there, and we still don't know the exact consequences of it. I know Glenn any second is going to say show me exactly what the harm is to national security, but you know and I know that that's the issue. You can't actually always show the harm. It's not like giving the name of a spy and the next thing you know, he's executed.

There is a gray unknowable area here, and I just find both his attitude, which I called insufferable and I will stand by that --

TAPPER: Snowden's. Not Glenn's.

MARCUS: Sorry, Glenn. We can discuss that, too.

Just really troubling and reprehensible even though I simultaneously think there has been a value to it. We are having a really important public debate and I wish -- it's the NSA's fault and I have been critical of them as well, that we weren't able to have that otherwise.

TAPPER: Glenn, do you really think that -- and the truth is we have no -- as Ruth points out, we have no idea. But do you really think this hasn't damaged in any way these disclosures, the ability of our national security apparatus to actually accomplish some things truly in the name of protecting innocent people?

GREENWALD: Jake, we do know. We do have that evidence. The federal court two weeks ago and President Obama's own hand-picked panel that studied this for months and wrote a very detailed report both said that the administration keeps claiming that these programs are necessary to stop terrorist plots, and yet there is no evidence that can be identified, they said, that in any way shows that these programs are necessary to do that.

Terrorism is what government officials just immediately start yelling and they have been doing this for 12 years, whenever they get caught doing things that they shouldn't actually be doing. It's just a fear- mongering technique.

There's no reason the United States government needs to collect not just people's metadata, as Ruth keeps saying. They also collect people's content including Americans' content. Ruth said in her column that "the content of my calls remains off-limits." That's totally false. Under the 2008 FISA law, the U.S. government and NSA do collect without warrants the telephone communication of American citizens when they speak internationally with people they're targeting. That was the whole purpose of the law. This is incredibly amazing --


TAPPER: Let Glenn finish, and then I'll give you the last word.

GREENWALD: You do not need -- you do not need, Jake, to be collecting billions of calls and e-mail, billions, every day as the NSA does. You can target the people that you suspect of engaging in wrongdoing in Buenos Aires (ph), and monitor their communications. That would actually make stopping plots more effective than if you're aiming at the entire citizenry as the NSA currently is doing.

TAPPER: All right. I'm going to give Ruth the last word.

MARCUS: Well, Glenn is conflating two things. The president's hand- picked panel as he said did say that there wasn't proof that the metadata program had stopped any crimes but that -- any terrorist activities -- but that isn't proof that Snowden's disclosures haven't harmed national security. So, he is trying to confuse it with that.

TAPPER: Because there are other programs to disclose.

MARCUS: But there are other -- the disclosures were massive and we don't know -- I'm less upset about his revelation of the metadata program because I think to some extent we already knew that was happening, than I am about some of the other things.

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