Though he acknowledged that Edward Snowden did indeed perform a "public service" by starting a national conversation about government surveillance, former Attorney General Eric Holder still insists that the NSA whistleblower should be prosecuted for supposedly "harming American interests."
"We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made," Holder told David Axelrod in an interview on CNN's "The Axe Files," which was published on Monday.
Nonetheless, Holder, who oversaw the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013 when Snowden's revelations were first made public, said that leaking government surveillance practices to media outlets was "inappropriate and illegal" and claimed that as a result "agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised."
Thus, Holder argued that Snowden, who has spent the last few years exiled in Russia, should return to the U.S. to face prosecution.
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"I think that he's got to make a decision," he continued. "He's broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done."
"But," Holder added, "I think in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate."
Holder's comments come one week after a former Department of Defense official revealed that the Pentagon has deliberately harassed and silenced whistleblowers who attempted to raise concerns through the proper channels—information which, for many, validated Snowden's decision to go public with his leak.
Many advocates said Holder's remarks were "hypocritical" given the extreme number of whistleblowers that were prosecuted during his tenure. Among them, Thomas Drake—a former NSA employee who in 2010 was charged with violating the Espionage Act—wrote: "So there IS a public interest defense for Snowden? Holder's hypocrisy. Tell that to [whistleblowers] charged w/ espionage!"