So far things have been looking up for Edward Snowden in 2014 (aside from the accusations that he’s a Russian spy and vague death threats). President Obama announced plans for greater NSA oversight, a government advisory panel found the agency’s bulk data collection is illegal and should be ended, and the New York Times called for the Obama administration to go easy on him. On Thursday, Snowden even got an invitation from Attorney General Eric Holder to negotiate the criminal charges he’s facing – if he’d like to plead guilty to something. “If Mr. Snowden wanted to come back to the United States, enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers,” said Holder during an event at the University of Virginia. “We’d do that with any defendant who wanted to enter a plea of guilty.”
Holder also dismissed the idea of offering Snowden clemency, though earlier in the day he told MSNBC he appreciates the debate he sparked on surveillance. “I think the dialogue that we are engaged is in fact something that is ultimately going to be productive – it’s healthy,” Holder said, “but that doesn’t necessarily excuse that which what he did.”
In an online Q&A on Thursday, Snowden suggested that he’s had enough of Moscow, but doesn’t feel he’ll be treated fairly if he returns home to face the charges. “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself,” he said. Snowden explained the century-old Espionage Act he’s been charged under wouldn’t allow him to make a public-interest defense. “This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury,” said Snowden.
For now it appears Snowden won’t be taking up Holder’s offer, but he said he hopes Congress will reform the laws that protect whistle-blowers. “If we had had a real process in place, and reports of wrongdoing could be taken to real, independent arbiters rather than captured officials, I might not have had to sacrifice so much to do what at this point even the President seems to agree needed to be done,” he said.