In an interview with Yahoo News on Monday, Holder stated “we are in a different place as a result of the Snowden disclosures” and that “his actions spurred a necessary debate.”
“I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with. I think the possibility exists,” Holder said when answering a follow-up question on whether or not that meant that the Justice Department may be open to a plea bargain allowing Snowden to return from exile.
In 2013, Holder filed a criminal complaint against Snowden, charging him with three felony violations of the US Espionage Act for his massive data leaks that exposed illegal US government surveillance programs. He could face up to 30 years in prison on just these counts alone.
“The former attorney general’s recognition that Snowden’s actions led to meaningful changes is welcome,” Snowden’s lawyer Ben Wizner told Yahoo News. “This is significant … I don’t think we’ve seen this kind of respect from anybody at a Cabinet level before.”
Holder declined to give any hints as to what a plea deal for the whistleblower might look like, as it would not be “appropriate” for him to discuss it as he is no longer with the department.
“Snowden is interested in returning home,” Wizner told the New York Times in 2014.
“He is and always has been on America’s side. He would cooperate in extraordinary ways in the right circumstances. But he does not believe that the ‘felon’ label is the right word for someone whose act of conscience has revitalized democratic oversight of the intelligence community and is leading to historic reforms.”
Snowden has long maintained that he will not accept a plea involving felony charges or a long prison sentence.
Despite Holder’s optimistic statements, Melanie Newman, the chief spokeswoman for Attorney General Loretta Lynch, told Yahoo News that there has been no change in their stance on Snowden.
“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,” Newman told Yahoo News.