Attorney General Eric H Holder Jr Thursday said the United States was willing to discuss how the criminal case against Edward J Snowden would be handled, but only if Snowden pleaded guilty first.
Holder, speaking at a question-and-answer event at the University of Virginia, did not specify the guilty pleas the Justice Department would expect before it would open talks with Snowden’s lawyers. And the attorney general reiterated that the United States was not willing to offer clemency to Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has leaked documents that American officials have said threaten national security.
“Instead,” Holder said in response to a question at the university’s Miller Centre, “were he coming back to the US to enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.”
Calls for clemency for Snowden, who has taken refuge in Moscow, have increased in the last several months as some civil liberties groups and prominent news organizations, including an editorial in The New York Times, have asked the government to consider such a move.
Snowden however has said he has no plans to return to the United States, because he would have “no chance” for a fair trial.
“The hundred-year old law under which I’ve been charged… forbids a public interest defence,” he said in a question-and-answer session on the “Free Snowden” website Thursday. “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,” he said.
Snowden was asked about the conditions under which he would return to the United States, where he faces espionage charges for leaking numerous documents about NSA surveillance programmes. “Returning, I think, is the best resolution for the government, and myself… it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws,” he said.