It’s no secret that Donald Trump’s presidency has caused something of a rift among libertarians. While many object to his penchant for executive power and contempt for such longstanding libertarian principles as free trade and free movement, there is a significant minority who defend or at the very least sympathize with Trump, usually on the grounds that he has arguably been less interventionist abroad than most of his predecessors (a very low bar if there ever was one.) Similarly, pro-Trump libertarians often point to statements he makes every now and then indicating a soft spot for Edward Snowden and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks as proof that he is a force for good and thus worthy of their support, with Trump himself even going as far as to float a pardon for the former before his term is over.
In fairness, pardoning Snowden and Assange would indeed be a libertarian feather in a MAGA cap very much in need of one. With Snowden exposing illegal surveillance practices by the NSA and Assange revealing war crimes and other misconduct by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s no exaggeration to say that they are heroes for shedding a light on some of the most egregious examples of abuse and overreach by our government in the modern era. Targeted for investigation by the Obama administration (which, for all the nostalgia liberals love to indulge in, prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined) and vilified by neocon Republicans like Mike Rogers and Liz Cheney, the two also have the dubious honor of sharing many enemies in common with the White House’s current occupant. Being nothing if not petty and now in a position to flip one final bird at his opponents before he leaves office, one would expect any list of pardons issued by Trump to include the names Assange and Snowden, in big all caps letters, at the top.
But although Trump has generously secured the freedom of loyalists like Roger Stone and George Papadopolous as well as disgraced congressman Duncan Hunter, he has yet to find the time or willingness to extend such grace to either Snowden or Assange. Even more egregiously, the president has neglected the two whistleblowers’ cases in favor of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, two Border Patrol agents who covered up their role in the shooting of an undocumented immigrant. Libertarians can argue amongst themselves about the extent to which government should control borders and movement across them, but there is nothing remotely pro-liberty about defending and protecting state agents who cover up their abuses of power, to say nothing of prioritizing them over whistleblowers who expose such abuses.
Incredibly though, these aren’t even the most outrageous of Trump’s selections for presidential pardon. That would be his pardons of Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard. Security contractors with the infamous Blackwater company, the four were acting as private military muscle for the American-led coalition occupying Iraq when they opened fire into a Baghdad traffic circle. With 17 Iraqis dead, the four were found by the FBI to have violated their own rules of engagement and convicted by a federal jury. But in the eyes of Trump (and with apologies to the Bard), Slatten and company are honorable men!
This isn’t to say that all of Trump’s pardons to date have been doled out to the undeserving: thanks to the intervention of Alice Johnson (herself pardoned thanks in part to the intervention of Kim Kardashian of all people), nonviolent drug offender Weldon Angelos and several others have been pardoned or had their sentences commuted. But Trump and his apologists’ alleged sympathy for Assange and Snowden makes his failure to secure their freedom all the more glaring. For all Trump’s talk about opposing the Iraq war, he has elected to release not the man who helped expose some of the greatest crimes committed during that conflict, but rather some of the men responsible for one such atrocity. Independent of the Snowden and Assange angle, one has to ask pro-Trump libertarians - many of whom claim to oppose the warfare state and all its excesses - how pardoning government contractors guilty of war crimes advances the cause of peace and liberty.
As often happens at moments like this, Trump supporters usually start prattling on about some secret master plan he has to carry out policies or actions they want but that he for whatever reason hasn’t. “You don’t understand! He REALLY does want to free Snowden and Assange, but the Democrats/Swamp/globalists won’t let him! Trust the plan! 11-dimensional chess! This time for sure!” Well, we’ve got less than 10 days for him to get the Deep State in quantum checkmate and free them before Joe Biden (who once likened Assange to a "high-tech terrorist" and threatened "consequences" for any country that offered Snowden asylum) takes office. And now with Congress gearing up to impeach him again after the shenanigans at the Capitol last week, it looks like the two whistleblowers will end up as just more pawns sacrificed in the Trumpster’s final blaze of ingloriousness.
Am I saying it’s impossible that Trump will pardon Assange and Snowden before he is removed from off- ahem, before his term ends? No. If anything, I’m saying that, given his track record, it’s more likely that he’ll make a few more vague, noncommittal statements about pardoning the two and then give one to Epstein paramour (and former Trump friend) Ghislaine Maxwell instead.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the Libertarian Party of Orange County.
Reggie Peralta is a native of Santa Ana and UCLA graduate with a BA in Political Science. In addition to helping out as Blog Editor for the Libertarian Party of Orange County, he has volunteered and written content for local arts and cultural organizations like The Frida Cinema, Makara Center for the Arts, and LibroMobile.