The White House warned Wednesday against reading too much into former Attorney General Eric Holder's recent comments that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden could strike a plea deal that will limit his prison time to three to five years.

"I would caution you against reading his comments that way," said press secretary Josh Earnest.

Earnest, however, wouldn't say definitively whether it's possible for Snowden to strike a plea deal to limit his sentence.

"As it relates to his treatment in the criminal justice system, that's something I'm going to reserve comment on simply because it is the view of this administration that Mr. Snowden has been charged with very serious crimes, and we believe he should return to U.S. to face those charges," Earnest continued.

If Snowden did come back, the U.S. justice system would afford him all the rights to due process given to other American citizens, he said. "I don't have any information to share about whether there are even any ongoing negotiations to allow that to come about," he said.

In a recent interview with, Holder said a "possibility exists" for the Justice Department to cut a deal with Snowden that would allow him to return to the United States from Moscow.

Asked whether the Justice Department is open to a plea bargain that allows Snowden to return to the U.S., Holder said: "I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could be satisfied with. I think the possibility exists."

Holder also said Snowden's actions "spurred a necessary debate" about bulk surveillance and government spying that changed U.S. policies.

Earnest was more reticent about the likelihood of a plea deal, but said President Obama has demonstrated his "responsiveness" to the broader public concerns about government surveillance. He stressed that Snowden should have used proper channels to express his concerns in a way that wouldn't have done "significant damage to the national security of the United States that was brought about by [his] disclosures."

He also said the recent limits on bulk collection of Americans' phone data passed by Congress is a positive step.

"There are some significant reforms that have been put in place, and I think that is a testament to the president's commitment to strike the appropriate balance between protecting the privacy of the American people and protecting the national security of the country," Earnest said.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, pressed Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates about Holder's Snowden comments.

"The idea as suggested in this article that he would be subjected to only three to five years in prison strikes me as insulting and inappropriate," Cornyn said, noting that Snowden shouldn't face less than 12 to 20 years in federal prison for his leaks, according to statutes and federal sentencing guidelines.

Yates said was terse in her response, saying only that Snowden should return to the United States to "face justice."

"I haven't read that same article myself. I believe what Attorney General Holder was saying was that he believed that there could be some deal that was possible," she said. "I can tell you it's the position of the Department of Justice that Mr. Snowden needs to return to the United States and face justice."