Edward Snowden Bus / Ted Eytan

May 30, 2016; Forbes

It’s all the buzz. Talking to David Axelrod of The Axe Files, a podcast produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder conceded that Edward Snowden did the country a service by leaking massive numbers of NSA documents three years ago. Holder suggests that Snowden sparked a healthy public dialogue on this country’s surveillance practices.

“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, still insisting that Snowden should return home and face the charges against him.

“He harmed American interests,” said Holder. “I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised. There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done, we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence.”

“I think that he’s got to make a decision. He’s broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do. Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done.”

“But,” Holder emphasized, “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.”

Recently, Snowden told University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone, “I’ve already said from the very first moment that if the government was willing to provide a fair trial, if I had access to public interest defenses and other things like that, I would want to come home and make my case to the jury. […] But, as I think you’re quite familiar, the Espionage Act does not permit a public interest defense. You’re not allowed to speak the word ‘whistleblower’ at trial.”—Ruth McCambridge