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Capitol Hill voices bipartisan support for formal charges against Snowden

Congress is showing bipartisan support for the Obama administration officially charging American Edward Snowden in connection with leaking secret information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

Federal prosecutors announced this weekend that they filed a criminal complaint June 14 against the former NSA contract employee, charging Snowden with the theft and communication of classified intelligence, then giving the information to an unauthorized person.

“I fully support the efforts of the United States government,” said New York Republican Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism. “He has betrayed his country, and the government must demand his extradition at the earliest date.”

Congress has largely supported bringing the 26-year-old Snowden to justice since earlier this month when The Guardian and The Washington Post published blockbuster stories based on his information about the federal government’s far-reaching efforts to gather data on phone calls, emails and other electronic communications to thwart terrorism.

However, members largely have been reluctant to call Snowden a “traitor,” with at least the exception of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

"If he's not a traitor, then he's pretty darn close to it,” Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Select Committee on Intelligence, told NBC last week, before the charges were made public.

"And as far as getting him back here, he needs to look an American jury in the eye and explain why he has disclosed sources and methods that are going to put American lives in danger," Chambliss added.

Snowden is widely thought to be in Hong Kong, where the government as of Saturday has not said whether he should be extradited to the United States.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian, suggested before the charges were disclosed that Snowden was in fact a “civil disobedient,” saying he only revealed a program about which everyone knew.

“I think if he had revealed a computer program that showed how we eavesdropped on people who are enemies, that would be a very serious crime,” Paul told Fox News Channel on Monday. “We had famous ones in our career. Some of them only had to serve like one day in jail. Martin Luther King served 30 in jail.”

Snowden risks spending decades in jail if found guilty of the charges.

On Friday, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who had also accused Snowden of treason, backed the formal charges.

“I’ve always thought this was a treasonous act,” said Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Apparently so does the U.S. Department of Justice. I hope Hong Kong's government will take him into custody and extradite him to the U.S.”