Edward Snowden performed a "public service" by prompting changes to the US government's mass surveillance programs, says former US Attorney General Eric Holder.
Holder still thinks that Snowden's decision to leak classified documents was "inappropriate and illegal," but — now one year out of office — Holder's view of Snowden seems to have shifted in a substantial way. "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 that we engaged in and by the changes that we made," Holder said on the CNN-produced podcast The Axe Files.
The argument that what Snowden did is both inappropriate and a public service is a bit hard to reconcile, but it's a big leap for Holder, who as attorney general maintained that Snowden would have to plead guilty if he so much as wanted to talk with US authorities.
"A judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate."
Now, Holder even suggests that Snowden may deserve reduced jail time because his actions were helpful. "I think in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate," he says.
The discrepancy in his views may come down to other issues that he blames on Snowden's leaks. Holder still says that Snowden "harmed American interests" and put agents "at risk."
Snowden has said in the past that he offered to serve jail time if allowed to return to the US, but the US government apparently declined to speak with him. He also doesn't see the US government offering him a fair trial. "The Espionage Act does not permit a public interest defense," Snowden said earlier this month, according to CNN. "You're not allowed to speak the word 'whistleblower' at trial."