US hints that whistleblower Snowden could plea bargain

The USA attorney general, Eric Holder, has hinted the NSA leaker could return home

(Image credit: 2013 The Guardian)

THE AMERICAN attorney general, Eric Holder, has hinted at the possibility of a return home for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden - if he is prepared to make a plea bargain and face espionage charges.

The Guardian says Holder maintains that full clemency for the 30-year-old would be "going too far" but said he was willing to "engage in conversation" with him if he accepted responsibility for leaking state secrets.

Holder is not the first senior US official to hint at some sort of settlement. Whitehouse spokesman Jay Carney also recently refused to rule out clemency for Snowden.

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As the attorney general spoke, Snowden, who remains at an undisclosed location in Russia, said in a live webchat that returning to the US was "the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself" but added that it was "unfortunately not possible".

Snowden was charged with espionage in June and the US is seeking his extradition. He pointed out that he is not covered by whistleblower protection laws and would not be allowed to mount a public interest defence against the charges - and so is reluctant to return home.

The former security contractor claimed there was no other way for him to raise his concerns about the large-scale surveillance of the American public than leaking the documents, no "process" or "real, independent arbiters".

He added that these days "even the president seems to agree [the leaking] needed to be done". But speaking to the New Yorker's David Remnick, Barack Obama insisted that the "benefit of the debate [Snowden] generated was not worth the damage done".

One further crumb of hope for Snowden: Obama also refused to rule out clemency, telling Remnick: "I do not have a yes/no answer on clemency for Edward Snowden. This is an active case, where charges have been brought."

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