WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says he would be open to a plea deal with Edward Snowden -- the former government contractor who exposed spying by a U.S. intelligence agency.
Snowden is in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin granted him a year's asylum. The United States wants Snowden back for trial.
Holder told MSNBC television Thursday that Snowden broke the law and has to be held accountable. Holder, however, said if Snowden's lawyers sought a deal that includes some accountability, then he would "engage in conversations" as he would in any plea negotiation.
Snowden said in an online chat Thursday that returning to the United States is the best resolution for himself and the government; but, he said coming back is not possible because as a government contractor, he is not covered by whistleblower protection laws.
The Justice Department has charged Snowden with theft of government documents and espionage.
Snowden allegedly stole more than a million documents showing that the National Security Agency, or NSA, kept telephone records on U.S. citizens and some foreign leaders as part of the war on terrorism.
Snowden said he believes the NSA was violating the Constitution and that the American people have the right to know what their government is doing.
An independent U.S. government panel has concluded that the government's vast collection of phone records is illegal and that the records should be purged.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said Thursday that the NSA surveillance "lacks a viable legal foundation" and raises "serious threats to privacy and civil liberties."
President Barack Obama has proposed ending the NSA phone data collection as it now exists; but, he says the information should be held by a new entity to be created by the end of March after consultations with Congress. He also said the U.S. would no longer tap calls made by leaders of foreign allies.