As an immigration reform bill putters slowly through GOP resistance in the Senate, and Vice President Joe Biden assures Americans he hasn't "given up" on gun control legislation despite six months' worth of failed bills in Congress, one man stands to mend years of partisan divide on Capitol Hill: Edward Snowden.
The former National Security Agency contractor wanted by the United States for leaking top-secret government surveillance programs reportedlyfrom Hong Kong, where he had taken refuge. Anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, which claims it is helping Snowden evade extradition to the United States, said late Sunday in a statement that he is "bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum."
As the United States embarks on what could be a years-long manhunt for Snowden, ,Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on "Face the Nation." And for the first time in years, lawmakers from both ends of the Republican and Democratic parties are rooting from the same side of the stadium.
"I want to get him caught and brought back for trial, and I think we need to know exactly what he has - he could have a lot, lot more," Feinstein said, referring to classified information on NSA programs designed to track suspected terrorists by secretly culling U.S. phone records and mining user data from major Internet servers. Snowden, she said, could be in possession of more than 200 additional pieces of classified information that could "really put people in jeopardy."
"Whatever his motives are - and I take him at face value - he could have stayed and faced the music," she said. "He has taken an oath, and these oaths mean something. If you can't keep the oath, get out. And then do something about it in a legal way."
Joining with the majority of lawmakers who have argued NSA did not overreach on its surveillance tactics, Feinstein said the programs have played a role in disrupting more than 50 terrorist plots, and have oversight from not only the Justice Department, but independent inspectors general for the NSA. Still, she said her committee will meet July 10 with Army Gen. Keith Alexander, National Security Agency director, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to discuss possible adjustments to the transparency of these government programs.
"Regardless of what you feel about our NSA laws," though, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said later on "Face the Nation," "I don't know how anybody can view this person as anything other than a criminal. ...If he views himself as not one, I hope he'll come back and make his case. But certainly he's not exuding the characteristics of any kind of 'hero,' if you will, to anybody in our nation, I hope."
It's a view that's breeding unlikely alliances in Washington: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was heckled at a progressive conference Saturday after stating that Snowden broke the law. "I know that some of you attribute heroic status to that action," she said of Snowden's leaks. "But, again, you don't have the responsibility for the security of the United States. Those of us who do have to strike a different balance."
Even Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., an icon of the tea party movement devoted to combating government overreach, lashed out at Snowden last week, labeling him "absolutely" a "traitor."