Holder: Snowden performed a 'public service'
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Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderThe old 'state rights' and the new state power The Hill's Morning Report — Harris brings her A game to Miami debate Holder rips Walker over Wisconsin gerrymandering MORE's thaw on NSA leaker Edward Snowden continued this week, with the former attorney general now saying the former government contractor performed a valuable "public service."

CNN reported Monday that Holder still says Snowden needs to face consequences for illegally leaking classified intelligence documents, but he told a fellow Obama administration alumnus that Snowden helped facilitate necessary changes.

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"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 told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files," a podcast produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.

"Now I would say that doing what he did — and the way he did it — was inappropriate and illegal."

Holder added Snowden "harmed American interests."

"I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised," Holder said.

The former attorney general called on Snowden to come back to the U.S. and face justice for his actions.

"Go to trial, try to cut a deal," Holder said.

Holder floated the idea last year that Snowden may be able to return from his asylum in Russia without facing jail time, but the Justice Department has given no indication a deal is near.

"I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done," Holder told Axelrod. "But, I think in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate."

Snowden said earlier this month he would return to the U.S. if the government was willing to give him a fair trial. On Monday, he tweeted Axelrod's interview with Holder: