Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday said granting clemency to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden “would be going too far.”
However, Holder told NBC News the government would be willing to “engage in conversations” about a resolution to his leak of thousands of classified NSA documents if Snowden accepted responsibility.
The attorney general has addressed the issue before. In an interview with USA Today last November, he said there was “no basis” for clemency. In a letter he sent to the Russian government last July, he made assurances that Snowden would receive the full protection of U.S. laws and authorities would not seek the death penalty against him upon his return.
Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. Holder’s letter at the time was in the context of trying to convince the Russian government not to grant him asylum.
In an interview published over the weekend, Obama said he did not have a yes or no answer on clemency for Snowden.
“This is an active case, where charges have been brought,” Obama said.
Obama also emphasized during a speech outlining a series of NSA reforms that the United States would not be able to conduct foreign policy if individuals continue to leak classified information.
“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy,” Obama said.
At least one administration official has broached the subject of offering Snowden a deal in exchange for returning all the documents he stole. However, White House press secretary Jay Carney had poured cold water on that, saying Snowden continues to face felony charges for leaking classified information.
Snowden, for his part, did not hold out hope of returning to the United States, though he said it would be the best thing for all parties. He said he would not be granted a fair trial, and called for Congress to reform its whistle-blower protection laws.
"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 during a question and answer Thursday.
—updated at 4:30 p.m.