Former Attorney General Holder: Edward Snowden performed 'public service'

    Edward Snowden during an interview with John Oliver on HBO's "Last Week Tonight." (MGN/HBO)

    NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden performed a "public service," according to former Attorney General Eric Holder, but he added that the fugitive's actions were "inappropriate and illegal."

    In an interview with David Axelrod for his "The Axe Files" podcast, Holder said Snowden's revelation of U.S. surveillance activities triggered a public debate over important issues, but he also damaged American interests at home and abroad.

    "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," Holder said. "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."

    In 2013, Snowden, an NSA contractor, leaked thousands of documents to journalists detailing the agency's global surveillance programs. He faces charges for violation of the Espionage Act and theft of government property.

    Snowden remains in exile in Russia. Holder said he should return to the U.S. and face a trial for what he did. He suggested the public value of the debate Snowden's leaks spurred could be taken into account in sentencing.

    Snowden, who has been active on Twitter commenting on intelligence news, said at a recent event that he would consider coming back if he could be guaranteed a fair trial and the ability to use a public interest defense. He mocked Holder's comments and shifting perspective on his actions on Monday afternoon.

    During the podcast, produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, Holder also commented on the 2016 presidential race. Citing a "race-based component" to Donald Trump's rhetoric, he said the presumptive Republican nominee "appeals too often to the worst side of us as Americans."

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