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American Dream Betrayed

Obama Administration Comes Out Against Right Of U.S. Citizen To Meet With Human Rights Organizations

The reporter is AP's Matt Lee.


Official State Department Transcript

QUESTION: Can we start in Russia -

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- with Mr. Snowden? I'm wondering if, since he has now asked the Russians for asylum, there has been any contact between this building and the Russians about your feelings about his status.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can tell you - I hadn't seen - or I don't have independent confirmation, I guess I should say, about any request he's made. I can tell you that we have been in touch, of course, with Russian officials. Our Embassy in Moscow has been in direct contact on the ground. We are disappointed that Russian officials and agencies facilitated this meeting today by allowing these activists and representatives into the Moscow airport's transit zone to meet with Mr. Snowden despite the government's declarations of Russia's neutrality with respect to Mr. Snowden.

QUESTION: So I'm sorry. You're disappointed that they let someone into their own airport?

MS. PSAKI: Well -

QUESTION: I don't get it.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that they facilitated this event, of course.

QUESTION: Well, why?

MS. PSAKI: Because this gave a forum for -

QUESTION: You don't think that he should have a forum? Has he - he's forfeited his right to freedom of speech as well?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, Mr. Snowden -

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: -- as we've talked about - let me just state this -


MS. PSAKI: -- because I think it's important. He's not a whistleblower. He's not a human rights activist. He's wanted in a series of serious criminal charges brought in the eastern district of Virginia and the United States.

QUESTION: Okay. I'm sorry. But I didn't realize people who were wanted on charges forfeited their right to speech - to free speech. I also didn't realize that people who were not whistleblowers or not human rights activists, as you say he is not, that they forfeited their rights to speak, so I don't understand why you're disappointed with the Russians, but neither that - leave that aside for a second.

The group WikiLeaks put out a transcript, I guess, essentially, of Mr. - what Mr. Snowden said at the airport. At the top of that transcript, it contained - it said that the Human Rights Watch representative from Human Rights Watch, researcher who went to this thing, while she was on her way to the airport, got a phone call from the American Ambassador asking her to relay a message to Mr. Snowden that - basically the message that you just gave here, that, one, he is not a whistleblower, and, two, that he is wanted in the United States. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: It is not correct. First, Ambassador McFaul did not call any representative from Human Rights Watch. An embassy officer did call to explain our position, certainly, that I just reiterated here for all of you today, but at no point did this official or any official from the U.S. Government ask anyone to convey a message to Mr. Snowden.

QUESTION: Did anyone from the Embassy call any of the other groups - representatives of groups that were going to this meeting - that you understood were going to this meeting?

MS. PSAKI: As I'm sure would be no surprise, and as you know because we even had a civil society event when the Secretary was there, we are in regular touch, as we have been today. I don't have an update on the exact list of calls, though, for you.

QUESTION: But you can say pretty conclusively that this one call did happen, and that it wasn't the Ambassador. So were there others? Do you know?

MS. PSAKI: We have -

QUESTION: Did calls go to other groups?

MS. PSAKI: -- been in touch with -


MS. PSAKI: -- attendees.


MS. PSAKI: I don't have any specifics for you, though.

QUESTION: Okay. And the - and you have made no secret of the fact that any country or government that gives Mr. Snowden asylum or allows him to transit through, that there would be some serious consequences for - grave consequences in their relationship with the United States.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you made the same - and presumably that would apply to individuals who would help him stay - help him avoid returning here to face justice. Is that - that's correct?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure what that exactly means.

QUESTION: Well, I'm - what I'm getting at is these groups, the human rights groups that are respected human rights groups -

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- which you yourself, as well as previous spokespeople have quoted from -

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in relation to other situations, have taken a side in support of Mr. Snowden, and I'm wondering if there are any consequences for them if you - if they aid and abet Mr. Snowden in staying away - out of the reach of U.S. authorities.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we obviously don't think this was a proper forum or a proper elevation of him. Beyond that, the way that I think it's been asked, but also the way we've thought about it, is more about governments and our relationships with them and their aid or decisions to aid Mr. Snowden.

QUESTION: Right, but I guess the question is: If you think this was an inappropriate forum, did you try to dissuade these groups from going there?

MS. PSAKI: From attending?


MS. PSAKI: Not that I'm aware of, Matt. Obviously -

QUESTION: Okay. So the call -

MS. PSAKI: -- they were invited to attend.

QUESTION: So the calls were just a reminder of your position. Did you say to Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International that if you guys help Mr. Snowden, support him in some way so that - to keep him from facing justice back in the United States, that there would be consequences for them?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any readouts of these calls. Our focus remains on -

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then can you say -

MS. PSAKI: -- conveying to the Russian Government the fact that they have the ability to help return Mr. Snowden to the United States.

QUESTION: Did you tell them in the calls that you did not think that Mr. Snowden should have the opportunity to express his view?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I don't have any readout for these - of these calls for you. We did --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, forget about the calls, then.

MS. PSAKI: We did convey the broad point that I've made.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then forget about what you said or what the Embassy people said in these specific phone calls. Do you believe that Mr. Snowden should not have had the opportunity to express his views at the airport in Moscow today?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think we broadly believe in free speech, as you know.

QUESTION: Except when it comes to this.

MS. PSAKI: But we cannot look at this as a - I know we like to ask about sweeping scenarios in here, but --

QUESTION: No, this is not sweeping at all. This is very specific, related to one guy in one place in one city, one airport, one time. So I just - do you think that it was inappropriate for Mr. Snowden to speak publicly? Do you - I mean, not that - whether you're disappointed in the Russians. Do you think that he should not have had the opportunity to speak publicly?

MS. PSAKI: Our focus, Matt, is on how our concern about how Russian authorities clearly helped assist the ability of attendees to participate in this.


MS. PSAKI: That is of concern to us. Our focus is on returning Mr. Snowden to the United States. Beyond that, I just don't have anything more.

QUESTION: Okay. I'm just - I'm trying to get - you are saying that this essentially - it wasn't a press conference, but it might as well have been. And you don't think the Russians should have helped to facilitate a --

MS. PSAKI: Facilitated a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden.

QUESTION: -- a propaganda platform. Okay. So this is, to your mind, something like them bringing out a defected spy from the Cold War and putting him on a platform and having him rail against the United States. Is that what the Administration believes?

MS. PSAKI: I'm not going to draw comparisons along those lines. But let me say --

QUESTION: "A propaganda platform" is close enough.

MS. PSAKI: -- that Mr. Snowden could - should return to the United States to face these charges that - where he will be accorded a fair trial. That's where our focus is.

QUESTION: Well, is this a propaganda platform or is this kind of putting in train a process for asylum? Because last week, or two weeks ago, the Russians said that they would consider his request for asylum if Mr. Snowden would stop leaking material about - or leaking information about U.S. surveillance programs. Now, he wouldn't do that before, and he tried some other areas for asylum.

Now, in this propaganda platform, as you call it, he said that he has decided to - not to leak any more information, or he doesn't have any more information, but he's done. So are you concerned now that this is him accepting conditions for Russian asylum publicly as opposed to just some kind of propaganda? I mean, is that your real concern here, that these are the conditions for asylum and now he's publicly meeting them?

MS. PSAKI: Our concern here is that he's been provided this opportunity to speak in a propaganda platform, as I mentioned a few seconds ago, that Russia has played a role in facilitating this, that others have helped elevate it. But we still believe that Russia has the opportunity to do the right thing and facilitate his return to the United States.

QUESTION: Well, but --

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any independent knowledge, as would be no surprise, of what he has officially requested, what has officially been --

QUESTION: Well, it's pretty public that Russia --

MS. PSAKI: -- accepted or not.

QUESTION: Okay, but it's pretty public that Russia said that they would consider his asylum petition if he said that - if he would agree publicly to stop leaking information. Now he's done that.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So is that propaganda, or is that publicly agreeing to Russia's conditions and kind of moving the asylum petition along?

MS. PSAKI: I'm just not going to make an evaluation of what Russia's conditions are and whether he meets --

QUESTION: Well, you don't have to make an evaluation. They've said it publicly.

MS. PSAKI: -- let me finish - whether he meets them. That's not the point here. The point is Russia helped facilitate this. They have the ability and the opportunity to do the right thing and help return Mr. Snowden to the United States. It's not about what the conditions are.

QUESTION: But you don't - I mean, is it - I mean, your concern now is that this is - that Russia's - by facilitating - I mean, are you really upset that this is propaganda, or are you really upset that Russia is moving closer to accepting to this guy's asylum?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we don't know that. This is a step that was taken today. Obviously, we continue to call for his return. They have a role they can play in that. Beyond that, I'm not going to speculate what they are or aren't going to do.

QUESTION: Jen, can I just ask: What level of seniority was the U.S. official that called Human Rights Watch?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have an exact position for you on that.


MS. PSAKI: It was not the Ambassador, though.

QUESTION: Okay. And how did the U.S. get to know about this visit? Was - were you informed by the Russians or by Human Rights Watch?

MS. PSAKI: We learned when it was made public, just as many of your organizations did.

QUESTION: Can I just --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In the conversations that the Ambassador, or whoever it was the Embassy had - not with the Human Rights people, but with the Russian Government --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- did you tell them that facilitating this appearance by Mr. Snowden was problematic, that you thought that they shouldn't do it?


QUESTION: Did you ask them not to do it?

MS. PSAKI: We made our concerns and our view on Mr. Snowden clear.

QUESTION: No, but I - specifically about giving him this propaganda platform, as you called it.

MS. PSAKI: I just - I don't have any more to read out for you from the private phone calls, Matt, just that there - we have been in touch.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, did you ask the Russians, please don't do this, we think he's a criminal and needs to come back? Did you - did - I mean, did you ask and they rejected the request?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, we've been clear publicly --


MS. PSAKI: -- countless times what our view is --

QUESTION: I understand that, but --

MS. PSAKI: -- and we've consistently made the same points privately, today and any other day.

QUESTION: Right. But did you say that you would look negatively on them providing him a, quote-unquote, "propaganda platform?"

MS. PSAKI: I just don't have any more on the specifics of the calls.

QUESTION: Well, is the United States Government now in the business of trying to discourage people or governments from facilitating people having - meeting with human rights activists? I don't get it.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, this is not a universal position of the United States. This is an individual --

QUESTION: So it's just in this one case.

MS. PSAKI: -- who has been accused of three - of felony charges.

QUESTION: But surely - Jen --

MS. PSAKI: This is not a unique --

QUESTION: Okay. He's been accused. Do you remember the old line that we're supposed to all know - he has not been convicted of anything yet.

MS. PSAKI: And he can return to the United States and face the charges.

QUESTION: But he can also surely - people who are accused of crimes are allowed their right of free speech, are they not?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I think we've gone the round on this.

QUESTION: No, I mean, it's a legitimate question. I mean, you talk about even in Russia that journalists have been persecuted and political activists have been persecuted and you call for free speech around the world. But you're not saying that Mr. Snowden has the right of free speech?

MS. PSAKI: That's not at all what I was saying. We believe, of course, broadly in free speech. Our concern here was that this was - there was obvious facilitation by the Russians in this case. We've conveyed that. We've conveyed our concerns. I'm saying them publicly.

QUESTION: So you're upset - you're not upset about the press conference; you're upset that the Russians facilitated it.

MS. PSAKI: We certainly are upset that there was a platform for an individual who's been accused of felony crimes.

QUESTION: But what does that matter, really? I mean, people that are in jail or are on trial in the United States, they give press conferences or they speak out all the time. I mean, it sounds to me like what you're not really upset with the act that he spoke; you're upset with the fact that the Russians did something on his behalf.

MS. PSAKI: I think I've expressed what we're upset about.

QUESTION: I don't --

MS. PSAKI: And you keep saying what we're upset about. But I think I've made clear what we're upset about.

QUESTION: Madam, can I just follow up real quick?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Just a quick - I'm sorry - question on this. The Secretary has said in the past that this issue with Ed Snowden is just not his portfolio, and that all of this is being handled primarily through the Justice Department. Can you clarify what the State Department's role is, then? Because obviously there is contact today on the ground in Russia with diplomats involved.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think just for context's sake, for everybody, that was said after a meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. Obviously, there are a number of issues that we do discuss and will continue to discuss with the Russians. But we're going to express concerns where we have them. We have been in touch on the ground; Embassy officials have been in touch on the ground with Russian officials. So yes, of course we have expressed our concerns, and they have been expressed previously. But the Secretary was making that comment in the context of his meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: So what is the regular channel of communication between Embassy officials, or is it at a higher level? I mean, has Deputy Secretary Burns been in more regular contact? We haven't really heard in recent --

MS. PSAKI: I just don't have any other specific calls or contacts to read out for you. Obviously, there are many components of the government who are engaged and involved in this issue, but beyond that, I don't have anything specific for you.

QUESTION: Is it this building's role, then, to formally request a denial of asylum? I mean, what is the communication here? If the issue of him being a fugitive is handled through Justice, what is it that State is doing?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we would like to see him returned to the United States, and he can be put on a plane to do exactly that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So does that mean the issuance of an actual letter from the State Department? Would the counselor issue a letter on State Department letterhead, or is that simply reserved for the Attorney General?

MS. PSAKI: That's ahead of where the process is right now. I've - I think as events unfold, we'll - we can provide you all updates.

QUESTION: Jen, on this point that you were talking about just now, there was apparently a fresh offer for asylum if he stops leaking. That was made today. I understand that was made today --

MS. PSAKI: Which Elise just asked about. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- like a couple of hours ago. So what is exactly your position? I didn't understand it. So you - did you tell the Russians that that is rejected, that is unacceptable? What language did you use?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we've conveyed outside of that - I don't have any independent confirmation of what's been offered or what's been approved or accepted, beyond that Russia has the ability to do the right thing, the opportunity to do the right thing, and facilitate his return to the United States.

QUESTION: And second, you said that he's not a whistleblower; he's a felon. Now, according to --

MS. PSAKI: I said he's been accused --

QUESTION: He's been accused, okay.

MS. PSAKI: -- of felony crimes. Yes.

QUESTION: He's not - yeah, but apparently public opinion polls in America show that, three to one, the public says that he's a whistleblower. Does that factor in, like the petition in Egypt, in any way?

MS. PSAKI: I think you're linking a lot of things together there.

QUESTION: No. Okay, what is --

MS. PSAKI: I'm conveying he is a United States citizen.


MS. PSAKI: He's facing crimes in the United States. He can return to the United States and face the charges.

QUESTION: Okay, so public opinion should not matter in this case. That's what you're saying.

MS. PSAKI: In terms of defining --

QUESTION: This is a purely legal --

MS. PSAKI: -- his specific role, I'm giving you an overview of the U.S. Government view.

QUESTION: Jen, just a quick follow-up. Are privately - Russians are telling you in Moscow or at the United Nations or in Washington about this offer?

MS. PSAKI: Are they privately --

QUESTION: Asylum, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I just don't have any updates on that for you, Goyal.

QUESTION: When was the last time before today's contacts did anyone from this building talk with Russian officials? Or have all of the conversations been strictly from the Justice Department?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think even Secretary Kerry spoke briefly with Foreign Minister Lavrov about it when they last met. So obviously, there have been contacts at a range of levels. I don't have any update for you on the last high-level contact from the building, but it's fair to say that the State Department, just like other administrative - Administration departments, where appropriate, have been very engaged. We've been working very closely with the Department of Justice, as Secretary - as the Secretary also said.

QUESTION: But wouldn't it be logical to assume that if the entrée was made for Amnesty and Human Rights Watch and WikiLeaks and other people to get into this transit zone, that the Russian authorities would have had some sort of heads-up and would have conceivably made some sort of arrangements in order to get them into an area where, theoretically, they're not supposed to have access because they're not, quote, "in transit"? And wouldn't the U.S. have had more of an alert before finding out from the media today that this event was going to happen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you are correct that this is an area only accessible with the assistance of Russian authorities. Beyond that, we, of course, saw the announcement earlier this morning online, or wherever it was first made, but that was the first we learned of the plans for this event.

QUESTION: Is it your position that in his meeting with these human rights activists, Mr. Snowden committed more violations of American law?

MS. PSAKI: I don't think I was suggesting that, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. Then I just don't understand. I think this is an incredibly slippery slope that you're going down here, that the U.S. Government is going down here, if you are coming up and saying to us that you're trying to prevent an American citizen - albeit one who has been accused of serious crimes - from exercising his right to free speech. You don't agree with that?

MS. PSAKI: I believe that what I've conveyed most proactively here is our concern about those who helped facilitate this event --


MS. PSAKI: -- and make it into a propaganda platform.

QUESTION: Right. And --

QUESTION: Or a public asylum --

QUESTION: -- the propaganda platform aside, free speech covers propaganda. Last time I checked, it covers a lot of things. And I don't see, unless he's somehow violated U.S. law by speaking at this - at the Russian - the transit line at the Russian airport, I don't see why you would be disappointed in the Russians for, one, facilitating it, but also, apparently from what it sounds like, tried to discourage them from - tried to discourage this - them from allowing this event to take place in the - to take place at all.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, this isn't happening, clearly, because we wouldn't be talking about it, in a vacuum. And this is an individual, as we all know, who has been accused of felony crimes in the United States. We have expressed strongly our desire to have him returned --

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. PSAKI: -- to face those charges. This is all applicable context to these circumstances.

QUESTION: But as you have also said, he is a U.S. citizen.

MS. PSAKI: He is, yes.

QUESTION: He remains a U.S. citizen, and he enjoys certain rights as a U.S. citizen. One of those rights, from your point of view, is that he has the right to come back and face trial for the crimes he's committed. But the rights that you're not talking about are his right to free speech, his right to talk with whoever he wants to, freedom to assemble. I don't understand why those rights are - why you ignore those and simply say that he has - that he's welcome to come back to the United States to exercise his right to be tried by a jury of his peers. Why is that the only right that he gets, according to this Administration?

MS. PSAKI: I don't think that's what my statement conveyed.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Has the - I just want to find out, has the U.S. spoken - had contact with the Russian Ambassador here to convey that message?

MS. PSAKI: I'd have to check on additional contacts beyond what I just stated.


QUESTION: Is there a belief in this building that the Russians are not dealing with the U.S. in good faith regarding Edward Snowden?

MS. PSAKI: I think our belief is what I stated, which is that they still have the opportunity to do the right thing. We are disappointed in their - with their role in facilitating the events of this morning, but we will continue to convey that we'd like to see him returned, and they can play a role in that.

QUESTION: How much is this - sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I was just going to ask: Has the Administration sent any officials or any people representing the Administration to this transit area in the Moscow airport to try to make contact with Snowden directly?

MS. PSAKI: Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: How - if the Russians accept his asylum decision, how badly will this damage the relationship? Is it - is this the most important issue in the relationship with Russia right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm not going to rank them. Obviously, we work with Russia on a range of issues. There's no question that, as we've stated broadly with any country that would have a role in assisting him either in transit or in a final place for him to live, that that would raise concerns in our relationship. However, we're not at that point yet. They still have the --

QUESTION: Raise concerns, or would it damage the relationship irreparably?

MS. PSAKI: Well, at least this hasn't happened yet. They still have the opportunity to do the right thing and return Mr. Snowden to the United States, and that's what our hope is.

QUESTION: But you don't really think that's going to happen. I mean, you're growing resigned to the idea that they're going to accept his asylum petition --

MS. PSAKI: I'm not - that's not at all what I stated.

QUESTION: Do you - and this is not contentious, I don't think. Do you know if the Secretary has any plans to talk to Lavrov? I mean, yes, I realize it's not necessarily their specific portfolios, but now that it is a diplomatic thing --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I'm not aware of a planned call, Matt.

QUESTION: Could I ask - the WikiLeaks statement that Edward Snowden put out, he accepted all extended offers of asylum, including the one from Venezuela, and said that that relationship is now formal, that he's now an asylee. Does the U.S. recognize this?

And he also said that that would give him some kind of international legal protections. And in that case, as an asylee, what kind of implications would that have for the U.S.'s continuing efforts to extradite him?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it's not for the United States to recognize. Our position and our message to every government we've communicated with has been the same, which is that we'd like to see him returned to face the charges he's been accused of. I don't have any independent confirmation of what's been offered or accepted in any of these cases.

QUESTION: New subject?

MS. PSAKI: Are we done with Snowden? Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in summary just to say that today's events have not changed the U.S. position and have not changed his legal status, Snowden's status?

MS. PSAKI: On the second, not that I'm aware of. And on the first, absolutely, it has not changed our position.


Comments welcome.


Posted on July 17, 2013

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