Former attorney general Eric Holder said in an interview Monday with Yahoo News that there was a possibility that the U.S. Justice Department could strike a deal with Edward Snowden, allowing him to return to the country from Moscow, where he is currently in asylum.
Holder declined to comment much about what the deal may consist of, but said Snowden’s “actions spurred a necessary debate” and also led President Barack Obama and the Congress introduce changes to policies related to collection of phone records.
In 2013, Holder led a crackdown against government leakers, which included a criminal complaint against Snowden in June. Snowden was charged with three felony violations of the Espionage Act because he gave away thousands of government documents to media persons.
“We are in a different place as a result of the Snowden disclosures,” Holder said in the interview. When asked if the Justice Department might be open to a plea bargain with Snowden, he said: “I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with. I think the possibility exists.” Holder, who served in the government until last April, is currently employed as a private lawyer at Washington-based Covington & Burling.
Holder’s comments were praised by Ben Wizner, Snowden’s lawyer, who said, according to Yahoo, “The former attorney general’s recognition that Snowden’s actions led to meaningful changes is welcome,” adding: “This is significant. … I don’t think we’ve seen this kind of respect from anybody at a Cabinet level before.”
However, Melanie Newman, chief spokeswoman for the current Attorney General Loretta Lynch, dismissed the idea that the U.S. State Department was becoming more lenient toward Snowden. “This is an ongoing case so I am not going to get into specific details but I can say our position regarding bringing Edward Snowden back to the United States to face charges has not changed,” she reportedly said.
The report by Yahoo News also cited three sources, who said that Robert Litt, the chief counsel to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, floated the idea privately that the U.S. government may be open to a plea bargain in which Snowden would be allowed to return to the U.S., plead guilty to one felony count and receive a prison term for three to five years if he agrees to cooperate fully with the government.
A source close to Litt reportedly said that he told Snowden’s representatives that “nothing is going to happen unless he comes in and moves off this idea, ‘I’m entitled to a medal.’” Wizner, however, said that any deal that would imprison Snowden was unacceptable to the self-proclaimed whistleblower.
The report also said that such suggestions of bringing back Snowden may not be received well in the Congress.
“I’m quite stunned that we would be considering any return of Snowden to this country other than to meet a jury of his peers, period,” Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA under President George W. Bush, said, according to Yahoo News. He added that what Snowden did was the “greatest hemorrhaging of legitimate American secrets in the history of the republic, no question about it.”