LONDON — Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor?

It was a question CNN's Anderson Cooper put to the five presidential hopefuls in the first Democratic presidential debate held Tuesday night in Las Vegas.  

Hillary Rodham Clinton said that Snowden, a former NSA contractor who disclosed details of U.S. and U.K. mass surveillance activities, had broken the law and shouldn’t be brought home without “facing the music.” Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since 2013 and recently told the British Broadcasting Corporation he was willing to serve time in prison in order to return to the States. 

The former secretary of state’s comments that Snowden “stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands” were seized upon by the Guardian newspaper, which said no evidence has been put forward to back up that claim. “To suggest otherwise, as Clinton did, was perilously close to teasing the American public with unsubstantiated rumor mongering,” the paper argued in its live blog of the debate.

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A controversial story in the Sunday Times of London earlier this summer said that Russia and China had gained access to the Snowden files, prompting British spies to be moved. The story cited unnamed sources.

Glenn Greenwald, a journalist who worked with Snowden, has called the Sunday Times story "the very opposite of journalism."

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who said he would shut down the NSA’s existing surveillance program if he was elected president, agreed with Clinton that Snowden had broken the law and that there should be a “penalty.” But he also said, “I think what he did in educating us should be taken into consideration.”

Jim Webb, a former Virginia senator, said Snowden should face the legal system, while Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, said “whistleblowers do not run to Russia and try to get protection from Putin.”

Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island governor and senator, was the only candidate to say he would “bring him home.”

“What Snowden did showed that the American government was acting illegally,” he said.

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