Both Rep. John Lewis and The Guardian newspaper are backpedaling from a story suggesting the legendary civil rights activist praised NSA information leaker Edward Snowden recently.
After Lewis seemed to show sympathy and even praise for Snowden in an interview earlier this week, he released a statement that he said "clarified" how he really feels about the National Security Agency leaker.
In an interview with The Guardian, when asked about Snowden, Lewis responded:
"In keeping with the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence, in keeping with the teaching of Henry David Thoreau and people like Gandhi and others, if you believe something that is not right, something is unjust, and you are willing to defy customs, traditions, bad laws, then you have a conscience. You have a right to defy those laws and be willing to pay the price," Lewis said in the interview with the Guardian published Wednesday. "I got arrested 40 times during the sixties. Since I've been in Congress I've been arrested four times. Sometimes you have to act by the dictates of your conscience. You have to do it.
"Some people say criminality or treason or whatever. He could say he was acting because he was appealing to a higher law," he added. "Many of us have some real, real, problems with how the government has been spying on people."
In the statement, Lewis that reports of his interview with The Guardian were "misleading" and that he does not agree "with what Mr. Snowden did." Lewis said Snowden is no Gandhi or Thoreau, and pointed out that The Guardian later removed the word "praised" from its headline for the interview.
Read Lewis's full statement below.
"News reports about my interview with The Guardian are misleading, and they do not reflect my complete opinion. Let me be clear. I do not agree with what Mr. Snowden did. He has damaged American international relations and compromised our national security. He leaked classified information and may have jeopardized human lives. That must be condemned.
"I never praised Mr. Snowden or said his actions rise to those of Mohandas Gandhi or other civil rights leaders. In fact, The Guardian itself agreed to retract the word 'praise' from its headline.
"At the end of an interview about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I was asked what I thought about Mr. Snowden's actions. I said he has a right as an individual to act according to the dictates of his conscience, but he must be prepared to pay the price for taking that action. In the movement, we were arrested, we went to jail, we were prepared to pay the price, even lose our lives if necessary. I cannot say and I did not say that what Mr. Snowden did is right. Others will be the judge of that."