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Sunday, January 5, 2014 - 5:55pm
WASHINGTON (CNN) — While Sen. Rand Paul thinks Edward Snowden shouldn't escape prosecution, the Kentucky lawmaker said Sunday the NSA leaker should receive some leniency.
"I don't think Edward Snowden deserves the death penalty or life in prison," Paul told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "I think that's inappropriate."
Paul insisted that, though he thinks the former contractor for the National Security Agency broke the law and possibly endangered American lives, Snowden's disclosures did a service to the country by revealing the depth of its intelligence agency's data collection programs.
"The courts are now saying he revealed something the government was doing that was illegal," Paul said. " History is going to judge that he revealed great abuses of our government and great abuses of our intelligence community."
Snowden, currently in Russian exile, is charged with three counts of violating the Espionage Act, with each count carrying up to 10 years in prison. If Snowden were to return to face trial, the government would likely add more charges in a grand jury hearing, accusations that, if convicted, would amount to a life sentence for the 30-year-old.
The Republican Senator said that Snowden should face trial, but he deserves "a few years in prison."
Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jay Carney scoffed at any suggestion of a plea bargain with Snowden, telling reporters that the administration's position on Snowden has not changed since President Barack Obama called for him to return home and face charges in August.
Paul also took a swipe at Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Snowden's disclosures showed Clapper mislead Congress when he said last March that the U.S. is not "wittingly" collecting data on Americans. Clapper later apologized, saying he misunderstood the question, only after the Snowden leaks revealed his answer to be untrue.
"Maybe if they served in a prison cell together, we'd become further enlightened as a country as to what we should or shouldn't do," Paul joked.
Paul, who has accused the intelligence chief of committing perjury, reiterated his call for Clapper to face justice.
"I don't think we can't selectively apply the law," Paul said.
"James Clapper did break a law, and there is a prison sentence for that. So did Edward Snowden," he said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, disagreed with his Republican colleague, saying there should be no bargaining, and Snowden should return and face the court.
"Snowden says that he is in a grand tradition of civil disobedience in this country. It is a grand tradition. Part of that tradition is you pay the consequence. If you break the law because your conscience says you have to, you stand trial," Schumer said. "What Snowden ought to do is come back and stand trial and face the consequences, and he will have his ample opportunity to say why he did what he did.
"Running away, being helped by Russia and China, is not in the tradition of a true civil-disobedience practitioner."