Obama disagrees with Holder on NSA leaker's 'public service'

Obama disagrees with Holder on NSA leaker's 'public service'
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President Obama does not agree with former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderComey's book tour is all about 'truth' — but his FBI tenure, not so much James Comey and Andrew McCabe: You read, you decide Eric Holder headed to New Hampshire for high-profile event MORE that NSA leaker Edward Snowden performed a public service, his top spokesman said Tuesday.

“The president has had the opportunity to speak on this a number of times, and I think a careful review of his public comments would indicate that he does not,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.  

It’s a rare example of disagreement between Obama and Holder, who was one of the president’s closest confidants during his time in the administration. 

Holder said in an interview published Monday that the former government contractor’s leaks, while illegal, were valuable because they helped spark national discussions about government surveillance. 

"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,” Holder said in a podcast interview with former Obama adviser David Axelrod. 

Earnest also noted that Holder said Snowden, who fled to Russia, should return to the United States to face criminal charges.

“What Mr. Holder is articulating there is the view of the administration,” the spokesman said. 

It’s a remarkable change of tune for Holder, whose Justice Department charged Snowden with leaking classified intelligence documents in 2013.

In 2014, Holder floated the possibility that Snowden could return to the U.S and strike a plea deal with the federal government. 

Obama has acknowledged the leaks played a role in spurring changes to government surveillance practices, but he has repeatedly said Snowden’s actions harmed national security. 

“Given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations,” he said in a January 2014 speech at the Justice Department.   

“I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets,” he added. “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.”