Eric Holder: Edward Snowden performed a 'public service'

The former US Attorney General who wanted to send whistleblower Edward Snowden to prison has tempered his view.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr

Edward Snowden.

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Former US Attorney General Eric Holder has admitted that whistleblower Edward Snowden performed a "public service" by opening a debate about surveillance. However, speaking to David Axelrod of CNN and Chicago Institute of Politics podcast The Axe Files, he also said Snowden still needed to face penalties for what he did.

"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," he said. In a 2014 interview, he was much more hardline, saying that Snowden would have to plead guilty to even consider coming home.

He added, "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 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." You can listen to the full episode here.