Former Attorney General Eric Holder says Edward Snowden's leak was "inappropriate and illegal" 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, who was attorney general when Snowden leaked highly sensitive documents that detailed some of the work of the National Security Agency, made the comments in an interview with former Obama adviser David Axelrod.
Holder went on to say: "He 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. There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence."
After leaking the documents to The Guardian and other publications, the former NSA contractor fled, ending up in Russia where he remains exiled.
In the past, Snowden has said he is willing to return to the U.S. if he is afforded a fair trial. Snowden is charged with espionage and theft.
Yesterday, Snowden tweeted:
In his interview, Holder also said that it's time for Snowden to make a decision.
"I think that he's got to make a decision," Holder said. "He's broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done."
Holder continued: "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."