Mr. Paul has previously called Mr. Snowden’s actions “civil disobedience,” but New York Democrat Chuck Schumer was right to remind Mr. Paul on the same TV show that the “grand tradition of civil disobedience in this country” includes the willingness to “face the consequences.” Martin Luther King spent time in the Birmingham jail, and even Daniel Ellsberg didn’t flee to Moscow after leaking the Vietnam War history known as the Pentagon Papers. He faced trial on charges that carried a maximum sentence of 115 years. A federal judge dismissed the charges.
As President, Mr. Paul couldn’t behave like some ACLU legal gadfly. He’d be responsible for setting standards for the entire security bureaucracy. To offer Mr. Snowden leniency on such terms would send a signal that any federal employee could leak any secret as long as he claims a higher moral cause.
If Mr. Snowden really had moral pangs, he had other options than stealing secrets, fleeing to the protection of two dictatorships and then claiming to be Tom Paine. He could have taken his concerns to Congress’s intelligence committees. Or he could have resigned from Booz Allen, his employer and federal contractor, and begun a general public campaign against government spying.