TODAY   |  June 23, 2013

Pete Williams: ‘Hong Kong dropped a hot potato’

Edward Snowden left Hong Kong on Sunday "through a lawful and normal channel,” the Hong Kong government said. Snowden is reportedly destined for Moscow, but that may not be his final stop. “Wherever he ends up, the process will start all over again,” said NBC’s justice correspondent Pete Williams. TODAY’s Erica Hill interviews Pete Williams.

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>>> it complicates the efforts by the u.s. to bring snowden back to face espionage charges. we want to turn now to our justice correspondent pete williams . pete, good morning. based on some of the things ian just reported, talk of sloppy paperwork, and a statement by the chinese government , any insight this morning on your end as to how this extradition process started to unravel.

>> it.

>> reporter: it does sound like hong kong dropped a hot potato and wanted to get rid of this. their statement says that the charges the united states filed a little over a week ago, quote, did did not fully comply with the legal requirements under hong kong law . the irony there, of course, is that the justice department and the prosecutors in hong kong were going back and forth about what form the charges would take. there is an escape clause because under the treaty the u.s. has with hong kong you can't extradite somebody for a political crime being so perhaps the hong kong authorities are considering two of the espionage charges to be political crimes . they don't -- there isn't a good match for those under hong kong law , but in the statement itself, the hong kong government also notes that it's written to the u.s. asking for clarification about reports the nsa was hacking into its system. so it may have been more than a legal decision to let him go.

>> that stuck out for me as well. at this point, though, now that edward snowden is on the move, we've been told head iing to moscow but not his final destination, how complicated is the process for the u.s. to bring him back?

>> reporter: well, it's simply a matter of -- it's still a simple process. once he sets foot somewhere, an administration official says this morning that the u.s. knows where he is but they may not know where he intends to end up. wherever he ends up, the process will start all over again. the u.s. will seek provisional arrest warrant which the hong kong authorities decline to iss issue. they will ask that country to arrest him, and then the extradition process will start. but, of course, he could also try to seek asylum and then it becomes really this is going to be from here on out really more of a diplomatic issue than a legal issue. it's going to depend on whether the u.s. can persuade the country where he goes not to grant him asylum. that will be up to that country on its own to decide.