Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday said Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who stole up to 1.7 million classified documents and released hundreds of thousands of them to journalists, performed a “public service” by igniting a debate in the country about domestic surveillance programs.
"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 we engaged in and by the changes that we made," Holder said during an interview with CNN political commentator and former senior adviser to Obama, David Axelrod.
Nonetheless, Holder did follow up by saying that what Snowden did was wrong.
"Now, I would say doing what he did in the way he did it was inappropriate and illegal," he said. "He's broken the law. In my view, he needs to get lawyers, come on back and decide what he wants to do — go to trial, try to cut a deal."
Snowden has repeatedly said he would be willing to return to the United States if the federal government would provide him a fair trial. However, Snowden says he is concerned that under federal espionage laws he would not allow him to present a whistleblower defense, arguing in court he acted in the public interest.
"But in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, a judge could take into account the usefulness of having that national debate," Holder added.