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Democratic congressman urges ‘leniency’ for Edward Snowden

New Jersey Democratic congressman Rush Holt recommended “leniency” for National Security Agency “whistleblower” Edward Snowden if he returns to the United States, calling the punishment he faces “unreasonable.”

On Thursday, Holt spoke with MSNBC’s Richard Lui about a New York Times piece pushing amnesty for Snowden, the former NSA contractor wanted by the Justice Department for leaking massive amounts of information about the agency’s domestic surveillance programs. Holt, a longtime advocate for increased privacy protections, largely agreed with the paper’s contention that Snowden deserves “some form of clemency.” (RELATED: ACLU on possible Edward Snowden return: ‘Amnesty is not a dirty word’)

“Should Edward Snowden face the music for breaking the law?” Holt asked. “I think yes, but I think with leniency. We would not be having this very important national debate now had it not been for Snowden. I’ve been trying for years to get this national debate going and it’s been very hard.”

The congressman declined to elaborate on what leniency what look like, but noted that the proposed punishment does not fit the crime. “He now faces two ten-year terms and maybe, with additional charges, life in prison,” Holt said. “That is unreasonable.”

He noted that although Snowden was “certainly a whistleblower,” by law “he wasn’t allowed to be a whistleblower . . . there was no such thing as a whistleblower in the intelligence community.” A bill introduced by Holt this summer, “The Surveillance State Repeal Act,” would grant intelligence officials the same whistleblower protections provided to other government employees.

“That’s what whistleblowing is — it’s exposing waste, fraud [and] abuse,” Holt explained. “And this would certainly be called abuse.”

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