A young woman who was arrested and convicted by the Trump administration's Department of Justice for leaking details about Russian attempts to hack American election systems is now asking President Donald Trump to commute her five-year sentence.
Reality Winner, 25, was arrested in June 2017 after the feds tracked her down as the source of a report published by The Intercept showing that hackers connected to the Russian government attempted to infiltrate an election systems company based in Florida.
The report contained classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA). Winner saw herself as a whistleblower alerting the public about the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. At the time of her leak, there was much less public info about the extent of hacking attempts, and her arrest came about a year before the Department of Justice would actually indict Russian operatives with hacking into the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee and attempting to hack state election systems. Nothing Winner leaked linked Trump or anybody in Trump's campaign with these Russian efforts.
Winner was denied bail and in 2018 accepted a plea deal for five years in federal prison, the harshest sentence ever handed down to a civilian who leaked info to the media.
On Monday, Winner's legal team announced that they're asking Trump to let her out. Winner's mom says Winner is "losing hope" and is not getting any treatment for her bulimia or anorexia. In the clemency petition (posted by The Intercept and readable here), it notes that she didn't work with a foreign power or conspire against her country; her "disclosure didn't jeopardize the security or safety of human lives or strategic information"; and she didn't seek any compensation for providing the report. She only wanted to inform the public. She has so far served 33 months out of a 63-month sentence.
NBC notes that Trump had previously tweeted that he thought Winner's sentence was "so unfair," but the real purpose of that tweet was to needle then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for failing to go after Hillary Clinton. It wasn't really an indication that Trump actually cared about what happened to Winner.
Winner is obviously not some sort of threat or danger to the public and there's no reason to keep her imprisoned. Today the White House announced four pardons or commutations:
- Trump pardoned former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who was convicted in 1998 in a corruption scandal in Louisiana where then-Gov. Edwin Edwards had demanded $400,000 from DeBartolo in exchange for a riverboat gambling license.
- Trump commuted the sentence former Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, currently serving 14 years for political corruption. He has served eight years so far. The commutation will free Blagojevich but keep his conviction intact.
- Trump also pardoned famous 1980s "junk bond king" Michael Milken, who was convicted for securities fraud, and pardoned former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was convicted for tax fraud.
Why not include Winner in the group? It's particularly galling to have her sitting in federal prison given that the Justice Department is unlikely to ever get its hands on the Russian government operatives charged with actually attempting the hacking.