It's extremely obvious that the information leaked by Edward Snowden has been a huge boon for privacy-loving Americans in scaling back—even if only just a bit—the authority of the National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI to snoop on the country's own citizens with little oversight. The USA Freedom Act would not have passed (or even existed) without him. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, granting the federal government extremely broad data collection permissions, might not have expired without him.
Nevertheless (or "Because of this" if you're feeling particularly cynical), the Department of Justice wants to arrest and charge Snowden with violations of the Espionage Act. But now, former Attorney General Eric Holder has told Yahoo News that there's the possibility of a deal for Snowden and admitted that Snowden's leaks weren't all bad news:
In an interview with Yahoo News, Holder said "we are in a different place as a result of the Snowden disclosures" and that "his actions spurred a necessary debate" that prompted President Obama and Congress to change policies on the bulk collection of phone records of American citizens.
Asked if that meant the Justice Department might now be open to a plea bargain that allows Snowden to return from his self-imposed exile in Moscow, Holder replied: "I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with. I think the possibility exists."
A plea deal probably would have always been on the table should Snowden agree to return home. That's how the Department of Justice operates, and it's tough to imagine Snowden even coming back to America without one.
But Holder's no longer the attorney general, and therefore his suggestion that the DOJ might be willing to give Snowden a three- to five-year sentence if he pleads guilty to just one charge should be met with some skepticism. Indeed, CNN reports today that the source of the idea for the plea agreement, Robert Litt, chief counsel for the Director of National Intelligence, was just expressing his personal opinion and is not the one calling the shots. The DOJ and the White House both say their position on bringing Snowden home to face charges hasn't changed. But note that's not actually a contradictory position. He could come home and "face charges" through a plea deal.
The Obama Administration has abused the Espionage Act seven times to prosecute people who leak government information to the media, more than all previous presidents combined. Snowden would have to be crazy or extremely desperate to return home without a deal in writing that guarantees him no jail time at the very least. (He'll just have to rely on the private sector to provide the tickertape parade.) Indeed, Ben Wizner, Snowden's attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, agrees, telling Yahoo News there will be no deal that includes any sort of prison time:
Wizner, Snowden's lawyer, said any felony plea by Snowden that results in prison time would be unacceptable to his client. "Our position is he should not be reporting to prison as a felon and losing his civil rights as a result of his act of conscience," he said.