FBI Director James Comey today dismissed the idea of any plea deal with Edward Snowden, calling the ex-NSA contractor a “fugitive” who should be apprehended and brought to justice in the United States.
Comey’s comments came two days after former Attorney General Eric Holder seemed to open the door to the idea of a possible deal with Snowden, telling Yahoo News in an interview that Snowden had “spurred a necessary debate” that led the U.S. government to curb the bulk collection of the records of Americans’ phone calls.
But Comey took a decidedly different tack when asked about his former boss’ comments during a meeting with reporters at FBI headquarters.
“My view is [Snowden is] a fugitive,” Comey said. “I’d love to apprehend him so he can enjoy the benefits of the freest and fairest criminal justice system in the world.”
As for Holder’s contention that Snowden — by leaking classified documents to journalists — had spurred an important debate about U.S. surveillance, Comey said, “Look, you have to look at Snowden’s body of work.”
Comey appeared to be referring to the contention of many in the U.S. intelligence community that Snowden had leaked tens of thousands of sensitive documents — most of which had nothing to do with the bulk collection of phone records, the one program that Congress changed, by passing the USA Freedom Act, as a result of his disclosures.
But Comey stopped himself midthought, saying he didn’t want to elaborate and potentially jeopardize any future trial of Snowden. “The guy’s a fugitive, and I want him to have a free and fair trial.”
Snowden was charged in a criminal complaint two years ago with three felony violations of the Espionage Act. His lawyer said this week that his client, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Moscow and making paid speeches via Skype, does not intend to return if he is required to plead to a felony as a result of his “act of conscience.”
A spokeswoman for Holder’s successor, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, said this week, “Our position regarding bringing Edward Snowden back to the United States to face charges has not changed.”