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Eric Holder Now Says Edward Snowden Performed A "Public Service"

But the former Attorney General urged the whistleblower to return to the U.S. and face the consequences of his actions.

Last updated on May 30, 2016, at 5:34 p.m. ET

Posted on May 30, 2016, at 4:15 p.m. ET

Kris Connor / Getty Images

Former Attorney General Eric Holder says whistleblower Edward Snowden performed a "public service" by leaking U.S. surveillance secrets because his actions ignited a public debate on surveillance and privacy.

"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 told David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Obama, on The Axe Files podcast.

Former US Attorney General @EricHolder spoke about #NSA's mass surveillance with @DavidAxelrod. In his own words:

The former CIA contractor's 2013 leak revealed, among other things, that the National Security Agency was collecting telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.

However Holder, who headed the Justice Department when Snowden leaked U.S. surveillance secrets in 2013, said the whistleblower also harmed American interests through his actions.

"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 compromise," he said.

The Guardian / Getty Images

Holder urged Snowden, who has been in exile in Russia, to return to the United States go to trial and face the consequences of his actions.

"He's broken the law in my view," Holder said. "He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done."

On Twitter, Snowden criticized what he said was a shifting view on his actions:

2013: It's treason! 2014: Maybe not, but it was reckless 2015: Still, technically it was unlawful 2016: It was a public service but 2017: