This column by ACRU Policy Board member Hans von Spakovsky and Cully Stimson was published January 20, 2017 by The Sacramento Bee.
Barack Obama’s unjustified and undeserved commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence is very revealing. It demonstrates Obama’s cavalier attitude toward protecting our nation’s secrets, not to mention the safety of our military and diplomatic personnel.
Consider, too, the bizarre statement by the president’s press secretary, Josh Earnest. He told CBS News that he found it “outrageous” for Republicans to suggest that what Manning did was worse than what Donald Trump had done when he supposedly “encouraged WikiLeaks to collude with the Russians to hack his opponent” in the presidential race and encouraged the public to read what WikiLeaks revealed about the Democratic National Committee.
What is actually “outrageous” is for a president’s spokesman to compare Manning’s case to the DNC computer breach. In the first case, an active duty U.S. Army private first class, then known as Bradley Manning, intentionally downloaded and stole more than 400,000 classified files from government computers related to the Iraq war; 91,000 files from the Afghan war; 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables (emails); sensitive and classified U.S. airstrike videos; and classified documents and files from Guantanamo Bay, including assessments of Guantanamo terrorist detainees.
In the second case, you have the public disclosure of email communications between a political party and their eventual presidential nominee that revealed that while the party was publicly proclaiming its neutrality during the primary process, it was actually colluding with one candidate (Hillary Clinton) to exclude another candidate (Bernie Sanders).
There is a profound moral and legal distinction between these two cases, no matter how you spin it.
Manning committed crimes that broke numerous laws, endangered our troops and diplomatic personnel, and armed the enemy with information they never should have had. The DNC hack by Russia was a crime, to be sure, but merely aired dirty, politically inconvenient and embarrassing laundry.
At Manning’s court-martial, during the sentencing phase, Army Brig. Gen. Robert A. Carr, a top Pentagon intelligence official, testified that Manning’s disclosures “affected our ability to do our mission,” and endangered U.S. ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Patrick Kennedy, a State Department official, testified that Manning’s actions sent the State Department into crisis and prompted a costly effort to assess the damage from the leaks. Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, the deputy commander of the U.S. defense attache in Pakistan, testified that Manning’s actions had a very negative effect on the mission of the Office of Defense Representative in Pakistan.
Manning disclosed hundreds of thousands of secret documents containing some of the most sensitive information about our war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as our diplomatic efforts. She recklessly exposed top secret files of terrorist detainees at Guantanamo. She betrayed her oath to our country, aided our enemies by arming them with information that they could only dream about acquiring, and forced our government to expend untold hours and money to minimize the damage inflicted by her criminal conduct that endangered our national security and the lives of many Americans.
In sharp contrast, the only consequence of the alleged Russian hack of the DNC files was that Sanders’ accusation that the primary system was “rigged” proved to be true. It exposed, for the world to see, the thumb-on-the-scale, hyper-partisan nature of the DNC during its own primary process.
Critics of the Obama administration have said that it was one of the most political in history — that politics drove the decision-making on issues of domestic and foreign policy, law enforcement and national security.
Unfortunately for us, that criticism rings true in the commutation of Manning’s sentence. It’s also confirmed by Earnest’s inability to distinguish between Manning’s treasonous, criminal conduct that damaged our national security and the airing of the DNC’s dirty laundry in a political campaign.
By equating the two, the administration plainly told our military personnel and our diplomats that it considers what happened in a rough-and-tumble political campaign to be as important as the grave danger Manning’s illicit disclosures posed to their lives and our nation’s safety.