WASHINGTON — Recent interviews with Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general, have spurred rumors that the U.S. government might offer Edward Snowden, the exiled NSA whistleblower, a plea bargain. Yet there’s little evidence such a deal actually exists and even less indication that Snowden would be interested if it did.
Holder spoke with Yahoo! News last week, admitting that “we are in a different place as a result of the Snowden disclosures” and “his actions spurred a necessary debate.” Holder went further in an interview with Huffington Post, noting: “A debate has been spurred in our country that I think at the end of the day has been a useful one and resulted in appropriate changes to the way in which we gather information.” However, Holder continues to insist that Snowden’s leaks were “extremely harmful to the United States,” even though no U.S. official has ever offered substantive evidence of this supposed harm. Instead, Holder told HuffPost’s Ryan J. Reilly that Snowden should have disclosed his concerns to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The interviews seem to signify that Holder is softening his stance on Snowden, who made international headlines two years ago for releasing classified documents revealing mass NSA surveillance to reporters Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald. Snowden remains in Russia, where he obtained asylum after the U.S. government canceled his passport. If he returns to the United States, he’ll face three felony charges for violating the Espionage Act, charges Holder himself filed as attorney general, as part of an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office.
In his interview with Yahoo!, Holder even indicated that the Justice Department might be willing to work out a bargain with Snowden. Although Holder refused to provide details of any potential plea deal, anonymous Yahoo! sources suggested a recently discussed deal would let Snowden return if he “pleads guilty to one felony count and receives a prison sentence of three to five years in exchange for full cooperation with the government.” But officials in both current Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s office and FBI Director James Comey denied that any deal exists.
And Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, insisted that even these reduced charges remain inappropriate. “Our position is he should not be reporting to prison as a felon and losing his civil rights as a result of his act of conscience,” he told Yahoo!
Further, it’s unclear what, if any, influence Holder has over current policy. His recent interviews may simply be attempts to generate publicity for his return to work as a private lawyer to Wall Street billionaires. After six years as attorney general upholding the U.S. government’s pro-corporate agenda, prosecuting journalists and whistleblowers while failing to jail bankers, he is once again working for Covington & Burling, a corporate law firm notorious for serving the “1%.”