A former Army private convicted of passing reams of classified material to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks was one of 209 more federal prisoners who received a commuted sentence from President Obama Tuesday.
The 209 clemencies add to Obama’s record-setting pace. His one-day total was more than any of his 11 immediate predecessors granted during their entire presidencies. But the focus likely will be on Chelsea Manning, who was serving a 35-year sentence related to the stolen documents given to WikiLeaks. While in prison, the former Bradley Manning declared himself transgender and began living as a woman. In September, the Army agreed to pay for gender-reassignment surgery.
“This might smell even worse than Marc Rich. Manning’s a traitor.”
Manning was sentenced in 2013. That sentence will now expire May 17.
William Otis, who worked for both Bush administrations and now serves as an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University, compared the move to President Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour pardon of Marc Rich. That pardon drew widespread condemnation since Rich’s wife was a heavy contributor to the Clinton Presidential Library and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign.
“This might smell even worse than Marc Rich,” he said. “Manning’s a traitor.”
Obama on Tuesday also pardoned 64 people, including James Edward Cartwright, a former Marine Corps general and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was convicted of making false statements to federal investigators during an investigation into the leaking of a secret U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Obama’s decision to shave so much time off of Manning’s prison term is jarring in the context of months of leftist hand wringing in the role that WikiLeaks supposedly played in the defeat of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. WikiLeaks published thousands of emails hacked from the Gmail account of Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee.
U.S. intelligence services have pointed the finger at Russia for those hacks. 50-some Democratic members of Congress have declared President-Elect Donald Trump illegitimate as a result, and have announced they will skip the inauguration on Friday.
Otis, who contributes a blog called Crime & Consequences, said the opposing views on WikiLeaks based on its target represent a shocking double standard. Unlike the political emails, Otis said, the documents passed to WikiLeaks by Manning were classified and could have jeopardized national security.
“It’s a selective problem,” he said. “When the Russians are buzzing our ships, that’s not a problem. When the Russians are invading Crimea, that’s not a problem.”
Jerry Boykin, a former U.S. Army Delta Force commander and executive director at the Family Research Council, blasted the pardon.
“Today President Obama chose political correctness over our national security,” he said in a prepared statement. “[Chelsea] Manning is in prison for treasonous acts that put the lives of many Americans at risk. And now on his way out the door, President Obama commuted most of [her] sentence — an unjust act that only rewards an avowed traitor to our nation.”
Other than Manning, the commutations announced Tuesday mostly fit the pattern of the past two years — drug offenders serving life sentences or lengthy prison terms. Thirty-seven of the people who got pardons and commutations also had firearms convictions. Four had been convicted for engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, a tip-off that they were higher-level drug traffickers.
An advocacy group called #cut50 praised Obama.
“For far too long, efforts to fight crime have missed their mark, breaking up families and harming the human potential in our most vulnerable communities,” National Director Jessica Jackson Sloan said in a prepared statement. “Thanks to President Obama’s clemency initiative, more than 1,000 people who were given overly harsh sentences during the War on Drugs now have a second chance at freedom.”
But Otis said mass clemencies have come at a time when crime has risen sharply over the past two years. He said he does not think the relationship is coincidental. And, he added, he would not be surprised if Obama unholsters his clemency pen again this week.
“I would not bet the rent that he’s finished with 209 [commutations],” he said. “The guy’s got three more days.”