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Holder says plea talks with Snowden possible, but not amnesty

Justice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeNational SecurityMSNBC (tv network)National Security Agency

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. took a strong stand Thursday against granting amnesty to Edward Snowden, but did not rule out the possibility of plea negotiations.

“He broke the law,” Holder said in an interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber about  Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor charged with espionage for releasing intelligence-gathering secrets.

“In fact he caused harm to our national security and I think he has to be held accountable for his actions," Holder said. "People have really gotten hung up over whether he is a whistle-blower or something else. From my perspective, he is a defendant.”

MSNBC said Holder rejected any notion of amnesty for Snowden. But Holder did say that the U.S. “would engage in conversation” about a resolution with Snowden if he accepted responsibility for leaking secrets, the network reported.

In an appearance later Thursday in Virginia, Holder made clear that any talks would have to be based on Snowden's returning to the U.S. from Russia, where he is currently living, and pleading guilty to federal charges.

“If Mr. Snowden wanted to come back to the United States and enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers," Holder said. "We would do the same with any defendant who wanted to enter a plea of guilty."

Fielding mostly friendly questions posed to him via Twitter, Snowden on Thursday addressed the issue in a Web chat he conducted from Moscow.

“Returning to the U.S., I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself,” he said. “But it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistle-blower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself.”

Staff writer Ken Dilanian contributed to this story.

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tim.phelps@latimes.com

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