Between Oliver Stone’s upcoming Snowden, which features a breathy Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe’s upcoming stint as the bespectacled former spy in an off-Broadway play, Edward Snowden is receiving lots of love from pretty much anyone who isn’t currently involved in the U.S. government. This includes former Attorney General Eric Holder, who told Obama strategist and adviser-turned-talking head David Axelrod that what Snowden did should be considered a “public service.” What he did was still illegal and deserves punishment accordingly, he argued, but think about all the good it did for the national debate on surveillance.
Axelrod brought up the sore subject on The Axe Files, a podcast he hosts, which is produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. During his hour-long conversation with Holder, the two men discussed a variety of subjects — including presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Yet Snowden was of chief interest, since the leak occurred under Holder’s watch as attorney general.
“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,” said Holder, before adding: “Now I would say that doing what he did — and the way he did it — was inappropriate and illegal … He harmed American interests.”
Holder emphasized the seriousness of what Snowden did by suggesting that the former analyst “needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide … what he wants to do: Go to trial [or] try to cut a deal.” He argued that, should that happen — which Snowden himself has mentioned as a possibility, but only if he were guaranteed a fair trial — the judge would have to take into account all the good the resulting debate had accomplished during sentencing.
The timing of Holder’s comments is interesting, as former CIA Director Michael Hayden’s new book, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, has a few things to say about Snowden too. Chiefly, that Hayden believed Snowden’s actions signified the ex-CIA contractor’s “naive and narcissistic” personality, and that the retired Air Force general wanted to put Snowden on a “kill list.” The book also claimed the leak “highlighted the need for a broad cultural shift,” though when Hayden was called out for the apparent contradiction between the two assertions, he denied that there was a contradiction at all.
For his part, Snowden took great pleasure in tweeting about Hayden’s “kill list” comment: