US alludes to plea bargain for Snowden

Whistleblower could be offered deal if he engages ‘in conversation’, says Holder

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

Sat, Jan 25, 2014, 01:38

Attorney general Eric Holder has indicated the US could allow the national security whistleblower Edward Snowden to return from Russia under negotiated terms, saying he was prepared to “engage in conversation” with him.

Mr Holder said in an MSNBC interview full clemency would be “going too far”, but his comments suggest US authorities are prepared to discuss a plea bargain with Mr Snowden, living in exile in Russia.

Mr Snowden, who took part in a live webchat at about the same time Mr Holder’s remarks were made public, defended his leaks, saying weak whistleblower protection laws prevented him from raising his concerns through formal channels: “If we had . . . a real process in place, and reports of wrongdoing could be taken to real, independent arbiters rather than captured officials, I might not have had to sacrifice so much to do what at this point even the president seems to agree needed to be done.”

Mr Snowden gave no indication in the live chat whether he would consider any plea bargain or negotiated return to the US. Asked under what conditions he would return to his native country, he replied: “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself.”

Suspected felon
The Obama administration’s official line is that Mr Snowden is a suspected felon and should be extradited from Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum, to face trial in the US. Mr Snowden has yet to be publicly indicted by the justice department but, in June, it charged him with violations of the Espionage Act.

But Mr Holder is the third senior administration official, including the president, who has made comments that raise the question of Mr Snowden returning to the US under some kind of negotiated terms.

White House spokesman Jay Carney was repeatedly pressed on Thursday over whether the administration “ruled out” clemency for the whistleblower. “He has been charged with felonies,” Mr Carney said. “I am not going to wade into those kind of assessments.”

MSNBC only released short excerpts of its interview with Mr Holder, but reported the attorney general said he “would engage in conversation” with Mr Snowden if he accepted responsibility for leaking government secrets.

Mr Holder said full clemency “would be going too far”, according to the network. Asked whether Mr Snowden was a whistleblower, he replied: “I prefer the term defendant.”
– (Guardian service)