Fifteen members of the Church Committee, set up in the 1970s to investigate illegal activity of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, have written directly to President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, calling on the government to put an end to Snowden's "untenable exile in Russia, which benefits nobody."
The eight-page open letter points to the many benefits and positive debates to come from the Snowden revelations, highlighting how the whistleblower's disclosures led to the reformation of the US Patriot Act, which regulates the government's surveillance rights and practices.
"In the American political system, bipartisan government reforms are generally regarded as the most legitimate and durable. Recently, however, our government has all but stopped making bipartisan reforms. There is one big exception: the surveillance reforms inspired by Edward Snowden's revelations," the open letter says.
"There is no question that Edward Snowden's disclosures led to public awareness which stimulated reform. Whether or not these clear benefits to the country merit a pardon, they surely do counsel for leniency."
Snowden's Actions 'Not for Personal Benefit'
The former Church committee members also pushed to remind the president of how his own, and former administrations, had shown leniency towards those who had broken secrecy laws, recalling that six former presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, had been guilty of breaching secret powers.
"There is no question that Snowden broke the law. But previous cases in which others violated the same law suggest leniency. And most importantly, Snowden's actions were not for personal benefit, but were intended to spur reform. And they did so," the members wrote.
Snowden impact on new US Freedom Act.— jaybusari (@jaybusari) November 28, 2015
Stops mass surveillance of citizens, court approval needed for each wiretap. pic.twitter.com/h7OiQJr8U8
The letter's signatories noted that their investigation into federal security agencies in 1975-76 came at a time of significant public concern over privacy issues, drawing some parallels to today.
The Church committee's investigation led to the revelations of numerous illegal acts, including the embedding of an undercover FBI informant inside the civil rights group the NAACP, and attempts to push civil rights activist Martin Luther King into suicide.
The chief signatories of the bill are former Church committee chief counsel Frederick "Fritz" Schwarz and the committee's staff director William Green Miller, who have teamed up with 13 former staffers to draw attention to the issue.
Parallels With Petraeus
The letter also highlighted government leniency on former "high-level officials who made illegal disclosures or destroyed classified information," citing former CIA Director David Petraeus as an example.
Petraeus, who is being considered for the position of secretary of state under President-elect Donald Trump, broke both the law and national security provisions after leaking confidential information to his biographer. He then lied about it to the FBI.
Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Ed Snowden is in exile. And you have the nerve to lecture Cuba on political prisoners.— Nikhil Goyal (@nikhilgoya_l) November 26, 2016
"Yet he was allowed to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor for which he received no jail time," the letter says, in reference to the fact that Snowden has not been granted such leniency.
The open letter represents a fresh push for the former whistleblower to be granted a pardon or some form of leniency before the end of Barack Obama's presidency.
Former NSA employee Snowden has been living in Russia — where he was granted asylum — since 2013, after leaking thousands of sensitive documents to journalists, revealing previously unknown widespread surveillance practices of US government intelligence agencies.