WASHINGTON (Sputnik) – Clinton claimed that Snowden could and should have stayed in the United States taking advantage of legal protections for whistleblowers after he exposed the enormous secret NSA surveillance programs over the entire US population.
“He broke the laws of the United States. He stole important information. I don't think he should be brought home,” Clinton told the first Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.
Another candidate, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley agreed with Clinton and questioned Snowden’s status as a legitimate whistleblower because Snowden sought refuge in Russia.
“Whistleblowers do not run to Russia,” he argued.
However, Senator Bernie Sanders, who now leads Clinton in polls in the first voting caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, said Snowden had played an important role in exposing the NSA excesses.
“He broke the law … but what he did [exposing the NSA surveillance] should be taken into consideration,” the senator said.
Sanders added that, if elected President, he would shut down the NSA surveillance program.
“If we are a free country, we have the right to be free. There are ways to do that without impinging on our constitutional rights,” he told the debate audience.
Snowden leaked classified documents on US mass surveillance activities in 2013. Fearing up to 30 years in prison for his revelations, Snowden fled the United States and was granted one-year temporary asylum in Russia and later a three-year residency permit.
Snowden, who is still living in Russia, has said he would be willing to return to the United States if he could be sure of a fair trial and a good plea bargain.