U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder suggested Thursday that the government could allow NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden to return home from Russia under negotiated terms, saying he was ready to “engage in conversation” with him.
Holder said in an MSNBC interview that full clemency would be “going too far”, but his comments suggest that US authorities are prepared to discuss a possible plea bargain with Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia.
Snowden, who took part in a live webchat at about the same time Holder’s remarks were made public, defended his leaks, saying weak whistleblower protection laws prevented him from raising his concerns through formal channels.
“If we had ... a real process in place, and reports of wrongdoing could be taken to real, independent arbiters rather than captured officials, I might not have had to sacrifice so much to do what at this point even the president seems to agree needed to be done,” Snowden said.
He gave no indication in the live chat whether he would consider any plea bargain or negotiated return to the US. Asked under what conditions he would return to his native country, Snowden replied: “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself.”
The Obama administration’s official line is that Snowden is a suspected felon and should be extradited from Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum, to face trial in the US. Snowden has yet to be publicly indicted by the Justice Department, but in June it charged him with violations of the Espionage Act.
But Holder is the third senior administration official, including the president, who has made comments that raise the question of Snowden returning to the US under some kind of negotiated terms.