In separate forums on Thursday, both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden responded to questions about a possible plea deal and Snowden's ultimate return to the United States, though the likelihood of that happening any time soon remains remote.
As the Guardian reports:
[Holder] indicated that the US could allow [Snowden] to return from Russia under negotiated terms, saying he was prepared 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.
And the New York Times adds:
Calls for clemency for Mr. Snowden, who has taken refuge in Moscow, have increased in the last several months as some civil liberties groups and prominent news organizations, including an editorial in The New York Times, have asked the government to consider such a move.
That argument has gained momentum with recent moves to curtail the programs that Mr. Snowden revealed. President Obama this month embraced some calls to overhaul certain N.S.A. activities brought to light by Mr. Snowden. In particular, Mr. Obama said that he would impose greater court oversight on the once-secret program in which the agency has been collecting records of every American’s phone calls, and that he intended to eventually get the N.S.A. out of the business of gathering such records in bulk.
“I absolutely think the tide has changed for Snowden,” Jesselyn Radack, a legal adviser to Mr. Snowden and a lawyer with the Government Accountability Project, said last month. “All of these things taken together counsel in favor of some sort of amnesty or pardon.”
Mr. Holder ruled out that possibility on Thursday. “We’ve always indicated that the notion of clemency isn’t something that we were willing to consider,” he said, adding that any discussions with Mr. Snowden’s lawyers would be the “same with any defendant who wanted to enter a plea of guilty.”