Who will serve more prison time: Michael Cohen, who admitted in court this week that he arranged hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign to keep women quiet about their dalliances with Donald Trump? Or Reality Winner, who was arrested a year ago after she leaked a National Security Agency (NSA) report showing evidence that hackers connected to Russian intelligence had attempted to infiltrate state-level voting systems?
On Thursday, Winner was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison for violating the Espionage Act, the longest sentence ever imposed on someone charged with leaking classified information to the press. She's already spent a year in jail, having been denied bail (unlike Cohen). The law doesn't even permit her to defend her leak as being in the national interest.
Cohen's plea agreement, by complete coincidence, has a maximum sentence that is also 63 months. But the sentence could be as short as 43 months, which means Cohen could face less time for his role in attempting to cover up information relevant to the 2016 election than Winner could face for exposing it.
This morning, President Trump's complicated collection of feuds led to an interesting place where he seemed to acknowledge that Winner's leaking was not a big deal, at least compared to what he believes Hillary Clinton has done:
Ex-NSA contractor to spend 63 months in jail over "classified" information. Gee, this is "small potatoes" compared to what Hillary Clinton did! So unfair Jeff, Double Standard.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2018
Note the scare quotes around "classified." Maybe we shouldn't read too much into that—Trump tends to pepper his tweets liberally with scare quotes. Trump's tweet nonetheless got the attention of Winner's mother, who responded that he should consider pardoning her:
— Billie J. Winner-Davis (@bjwinnerdavis) August 24, 2018
Let's be clear about the report that Winner leaked. It did not implicate Trump in any way. It was entirely about attempts by Russian hackers to infiltrate our voting systems. And this was important information that was valuable for state-level election officials to know about. Just last month the Justice Department announced indictments against 12 Russian hackers for allegedly attempting to meddle with the 2016 election. Most of them were charged with infiltrating the Democratic National Committee and Clinton's campaign, then arranging to release the information they uncovered through intermediaries. Two of them, though, were charged with the sort of activity that Winner leaked: attempting to infiltrate voting systems.
Just as with Edward Snowden, there's a strong case here for forgiving Winner's crime because the information serves the public interest. If Trump actually thinks it's "unfair," he should consider pardoning Winner. Unfortunately, it's probably more likely that Trump believes it's unfair that Clinton and his political enemies aren't being arrested too—that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is being too nice, not too mean.
Bonus link: If you think Winner is just some hippie flake because she doesn't like Trump, you should read Reason Contributing Editor Kerry Howley's lengthy profile of the woman at New York Magazine.
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