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Rep: Snowden should be given ‘leniency’

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said Thursday the government should offer intelligence leaker Edward Snowden “leniency,” arguing the penalties the former defense contractor faced were “unreasonable.”

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“Should Edward Snowden face the music for breaking the law? I think yes, but I think with leniency. We would not be having this very important national debate now had it not been for Snowden,” Holt said during an appearance on MSNBC.

Holt’s comments came after The New York Times editorial board on Wednesday argued Snowden was “clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not.”

“Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight,” the editorial read. “He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service.”

Holt said that he believed Snowden had served as a “whistle-blower,” disclosing “abuse” within the intelligence community, and that while Snowden “broke the law,” his actions should be considered within that context.

“He now faces two 10-year terms, and maybe with additional charges, life in prison. That is unreasonable,” Holt said.

The New Jersey Democrat also said he was offering legislation that would officially extend whistle-blower protection to those in the intelligence community.

Last month, Richard Ledgett, who heads an NSA task force handling unauthorized disclosures, suggested in a "60 Minutes" interview that the U.S. should consider a deal offering Snowden amnesty in exchange for returning additional documents outlining the government's top-secret surveillance programs.

“My personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about,” Ledgett said. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.”

But White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed the suggestion, saying the administration's position on Snowden's need to return home to face justice had not changed "at all."

"Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information, and he faces felony charges here in the United States," Carney said.

Carney added that Ledgett was merely expressing "his personal opinion."

"These decisions are made by the Department of Justice, and I would refer you there for more," Carney said. "But there's been no change in our position."