Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that NSA-leaker Edward Snowden "spurred a necessary debate" and that the "possibility exists" for the Justice Department to offer the former contractor a plea bargain if he returned to the United States from Moscow, Yahoo News reported.
"I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with," Holder said in a Monday interview with the media outlet. "I think the possibility exists.”
Holder is no longer in a position to pursue that possibility himself, having left the Justice Department in April. During his tenure as the nation's top law enforcement officer, he prosecuted more leakers under the Espionage Act than all prior attorneys general combined.
It's unclear whether Holder's comments represent a prominent view within the current Justice Department led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch. However, Yahoo News reported that Robert Litt, who is chief counsel to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, "privately floated" the idea of offering Snowden an agreement in which 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."
That would be unacceptable to Snowden's attorney, Ben Wizner, who told Yahoo News that his client is not open to "losing his civil rights as a result of his act of conscience."
Snowden leaked hundreds of thousands of documents to the media in the spring of 2013. The information revealed that the NSA collected the cell-phone meta-data of American citizens without a warrant, a practice Clapper had explicitly denied in a hearing before the Senate. That revelation prompted a renewed debate over government surveillance which culminated with the passage of the USA Freedom Act, a bill that renewed the government's post 9/11 surveillance powers while curtailing its ability to store the phone records of American citizens.
The New York Times and The New Yorker have both called for Snowden to be granted the status of a whistle-blower and provided with the amnesty that goes with it. However, many within the national security community argue that Snowden's revelations were more damaging to foreign intelligence operations than they were valuable in uncovering domestic surveillance.