Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the U.S. should drop criminal charges against Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
The military veteran said during a lengthy interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast this week that WikiLeaks founder Assange and national security whistleblower Snowden should not be prosecuted for disclosing information.
"What would you do about Julian Assange, what would you do about Edward Snowden?" Rogan asked. Gabbard said, if elected, she would drop the Assange charges and pardon Snowden.
"We have got to address why [Snowden] did things the way that he did them," she said. "You hear the same thing from Chelsea Manning, how there is not an actual channel for whistleblowers like them to bring forward information that exposes egregious abuses of our constitutional rights and liberties, period. There was not a channel for that to happen in a real way, and that's why they ended up taking the path that they did, and suffering the consequences."
In June 2013, Snowden handed over to journalists a trove of National Security Agency documents detailing a sprawling surveillance apparatus used by global intelligence agencies.
The leak showed how the systems could be used to spy on U.S. citizens through their phone calls, text messages and internet use. After fleeing the country to Hong Kong, a warrant was issued for Snowden's arrest. Snowden was left stranded in Russia, where he was provided asylum.
Gabbard told the podcast host that she could still remember the day she first read the details about mass surveillance in the American press. "I was shocked," she said.
"That was something that Snowden uncovered and released, something that I don't know that even as members of Congress we would have been aware of," Gabbard continued. "So now that we are aware of it, we can take action to close those loopholes, to change those policies, to protect our civil liberties… Was the NSA going to disclose that information voluntarily? Absolutely not."
Assange, whose organization helped facilitate Snowden's escape, was dramatically arrested last month and has been charged with conspiracy to commit computer hacking for "agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer," the Justice Department said.
On Monday, Sweden reopened its investigation into a rape allegation against Assange, who is now serving 50 weeks in a high-security U.K. prison relating to a 2010 bail violation. As a result, the WikiLeaks founder, who denies the assault allegation, is now facing two extradition charges.
"What happened with his arrest and all this stuff that just went down I think poses a great threat to our freedom of the press and to our freedom of speech," Gabbard said.
"The fact that the Trump administration has chosen to ignore how important it is that we uphold our freedoms…and go after him, it has a very chilling effect on both journalists and publishers…and also on every one of us as Americans. It was a warning call…saying 'look what happened to this guy.' It could happen to you. It could happen to any one of us."
According to pollsters, Joe Biden remains the most likely person to become the Democratic Party nominee for the 2020 presidential election. RealClearPolitics reported Gabbard still trails far behind her Democrat rivals—including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.