By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - President Barack Obama disagrees with his former top lawyer after he said Edward Snowden's decision to bring extensive government surveillance programs to light was beneficial, the White House said Tuesday.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, while speaking to CNN, said in comments aired Monday that the whistleblower performed a “public service” by provoking a national debate regarding surveillance.
But he maintained that the former NSA contractor should face trial for leaking documents in 2013 that exposed the extensive surveillance programs, saying that in doing so Snowden jeopardized U.S. national security.
"He harmed American interests,” Holder said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that a “careful review” of Obama’s comments on the matter would indicate that the president does not support Holder’s view that Snowden's actions were a "public service".
Snowden “should return to the United States, he should be afforded due process and that's essentially how this situation should be handled,” Earnest said.
After exposing the surveillance programs, Snowden sought refuge in Russia where he currently has a three-year asylum.
Speaking at a University of Chicago Institute of Politics event via video-conference earlier in May, Snowden said he would return to the U.S. if he could be guaranteed a fair trial.
“If I had access to public interest defenses and other things like that, I would want to come home and make my case to the jury,” he said. "But, as I think you're quite familiar, the Espionage Act does not permit a public interest defense. You're not allowed to speak the word 'whistleblower' at trial."