House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top Republicans released statements Tuesday blasting President Barack Obama’s decision to commute the majority of WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence.
Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act, among other charges, in 2013 after she stole secret documents from a computer system she had access to while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq and leaked them to WikiLeaks in 2010.
“This is just outrageous,” Ryan said in a statement. “Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets. President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, a veteran, also criticized Obama’s decision.
“When I was leading soldiers in Afghanistan, Private Manning was undermining us by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks,” he said in a statement. “I don’t understand why the president would feel special compassion for someone who endangered the lives of our troops, diplomats, intelligence officers, and allies. We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr.”
Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the commutation a “grave mistake.”
“President Obama’s commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence is a grave mistake that I fear will encourage further acts of espionage and undermine military discipline,” McCain said in a statement. “It also devalues the courage of real whistleblowers who have used proper channels to hold our government accountable.”
He continued: “It is a sad, yet perhaps fitting commentary on President Obama’s failed national security policies that he would commute the sentence of an individual that endangered the lives of American troops, diplomats, and intelligence sources by leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive government documents to Wikileaks, a virulently anti-American organization that was a tool of Russia’s recent interference in our elections.”
Manning received a 35-year sentence for the leak and has served seven years in Fort Leavenworth. She will now be freed in five months, on May 17.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told The New York Times on Tuesday that there’s a “pretty stark difference” between Manning’s case and that of former government employee Edward Snowden.
“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Earnest said. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”
Jeremy Berke contributed to this report.