Former Attorney General Eric Holder has said the “possibility exists” for the U.S. Justice Department and Edward Snowden to cut a deal allowing the whistleblower to return to the United States.
During an interview with Yahoo News, Holder was asked if the Justice Department might be open to a plea bargain that would allow the former NSA contractor to return to the country of his birth from his self-imposed exile in Moscow.
Holder, who recently returned to the Washington-based law firm Covington and Burling, where he was a partner from 2001 to 2009, said: “I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with. I think the possibility exists.”
Having left the Obama administration in April this year, Holder also revealed his personal view that Snowden’s revelations “spurred a necessary debate” that prompted lawmakers to change policies regarding the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records.
“We are in a different place as a result of the Snowden disclosure,” Holder said.
According to investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, Holder had previously told MSNBC viewers in a January 2014 interview that the U.S. would be willing to “engage in conversation” with Snowden and his legal representatives provided he was prepared to face the charges of espionage and theft of government property brought to him in 2013.
But, as Isikoff suggests, Holder’s remarks go beyond what any current or former Obama administration official has said so far, implying that Snowden’s disclosures had a positive impact.
Praising Holder’s comments, Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, told Yahoo: “This is significant […] I don’t think we’ve seen this kind of respect from anybody at a Cabinet level before.”
Countering the contention that the Obama administration is softening its position, a spokeswoman for Holder’s successor, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, told Yahoo News the current regime has not altered its stance.
“This is an ongoing case so I am not going to get into specific details but I can say our position regarding bringing Edward Snowden back to the United States to face charges has not changed,” Melanie Newman said in an email to Yahoo News.
Snowden, 31, has been in Russia since 2013, having fled to Moscow from Hong Kong following his leaking of classified documents to journalists, and is currently waiting on asylum decisions from 21 different countries. His lawyers have previously told reporters that he has expressed his wish to return home.
As quoted by Russian state media outlet TASS in March, his Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said: “Snowden is ready to return to the States, but on the condition that he is given a guarantee of a legal and impartial trial […] He is thinking about it. He has a desire to return and we are doing everything we can to make it happen.”