Former Attorney General Eric Holder sent a decidedly mixed message on host David Axelrod’s podcast by saying that fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden “harmed American interests” by revealing government secrets – even putting the lives of American agents at risk! – but saluting him for performing a “public service” anyway.
Holder pinballed between praising and condemning Snowden several times during the “Axe Files” podcast, which was produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.
For example, Holder said “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 then went back to condemning Snowden by declaring that “what he did, and the way he did it” was “inappropriate and illegal.” The former Attorney General proceeded to explain just how inappropriate Snowden’s actions were:
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.
Holder was still equivocating like mad when he invited Snowden to abandon his perch in Moscow, return to the United States, hire some lawyers, and try his luck with the court system.
“I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done,” said Holder. “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 himself pointed out the absurdity of that argument earlier this month, noting that the Espionage Act makes no allowance for the kind of “public interest defense” Holder envisions. “You’re not allowed to speak the word ‘whistleblower’ at trial,” Snowden explained.
What a sad state of affairs the U.S. government has reached, when a defector and saboteur has to explain to the former Attorney General of the United States how the law works!
Holder was a major factor in corrupting America’s legal system into the hyper-politicized pseudo-law favored by Barack Obama, where political imperatives trump legal requirements, especially where powerful or important people are concerned. It would make perfect sense to the kingpin of Operation Fast and Furious that Snowden’s trial should make due allowance for the political impact of his theft of highly-sensitive government data, even though courts are not supposed to make such allowances.
Naturally, Snowden claims he would also like to see political considerations trump the law – assuming one believes that he really is eager to “come home and make my case to the jury,” as he put it – but unlike Holder, he knows the Espionage Act does not actually work that way.
It shouldn’t work that way, for the very good reason that future Edward Snowden wannabes need to be discouraged. Holder is foolishly encouraging them by giving them exactly what they want: hero status for “raising awareness,” no matter what laws they decide they need to break along the way.
Whatever one thinks of Snowden himself, it is easy to imagine others following in his footsteps and doing even more damage. Just as it is urgently necessary to bring the hammer down on Hillary Clinton for her email scandal, to make sure other arrogant government officials do not look upon our intelligence classification rules as mere suggestions, it is important to puncture whatever romantic illusions the next generation of saboteurs may hold.
Foreign intelligence agents are very skilled at playing on such messiah complexes to work their assets. The OPM hack, enabled by the inept cronies President Obama put in charge of our vital government personnel data, gave foreign spies a great deal of information to help them isolate Snowden types and encourage them to perform the same kind of “public service” Holder praised.
The Obama years have brought us to a place where government accountability is virtually zero, the rule of law takes a back seat to Executive Branch ambition, and only the worst actors in the world are able to keep secrets. Holder himself acknowledged that Snowden stole a lot more than the details of NSA surveillance that caused so much controversy, and some of what Snowden exposed damaged our diplomatic and security operations, putting American lives at risk.
Even the impact of the “public service” Snowden allegedly performed is highly debatable. The needle does not seem to have moved all that much on the American public’s overall opinion of balancing privacy and security. The general response to the Snowden revelations was as much cynicism as outrage. The American people tell pollsters they are deeply concerned about security, and willing to tolerate quite a bit of government surveillance to obtain it, provided there is proper oversight.
Oversight is something the incredibly opaque Obama Administration has been ill-equipped to provide. This is the Administration that saved Attorney General Eric Holder’s hide with an outrageously inappropriate claim of executive privilege over Fast and Furious documents.
With decent political leadership, we should have been able to engage in a robust national debate about meta-data surveillance without exposing dangerous secrets and ruining vital intelligence operations. It is a profound failure of the Obama Administration, and its onetime Attorney General Eric Holder, that it took Snowden’s sabotage to force them into that conversation. Holder should be hanging his head in shame over the “public service” that Edward Snowden forced him, his colleagues, and his boss to provide.