(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama in his last presidential news conference on Wednesday defended his decision to commute the sentence of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, referring to Manning as “she” and saying that Manning, who was convicted of leaking more than 700,000 U.S. documents, “served a tough prison sentence.”
“First of all, let’s be clear: Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence, so the notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital classified information would think that it goes unpunished, I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served,” Obama said.
Manning – who went by the name Bradley Manning when arrested in 2010 and is serving time in a men’s prison as a transgender woman – was sentenced to 35 years behind bars, but only served six years. Manning reportedly attempted suicide twice and has been requesting gender reassignment surgery while in prison.
“Are you concerned, Mr. President, that commuting Chelsea Manning’s sentence will send a message that leaking classified material will not generate a tough sentence to groups like Wikileaks? How do you reconcile that in light of Wikileaks’ connection to Russia’s hacking in last year’s election? And related to that, Julian Assange has now offered to come to the United States. Are you seeking that, and would he be charged or arrested if came here?” a reporter asked the president.
Obama referred to Manning as “she” during his answer.
“It has been my view that given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received, and that she had served a significant amount of time, that it made sense to commute – and not pardon – her sentence,” Obama said.
“I feel very comfortable that justice has been served and that a message has still been sent that when it comes to our national security, wherever possible, we need folks that may have legitimate concerns about the actions of government or their superiors or the agencies in which they work, that they try to work through the established channels and avail themselves of the whistleblower protections that have been put in place,” he said.
“I recognize that there’s some folks who think they’re not enough, and I think all of us when we’re working in big institutions may find themselves at times at odds with policies that are set, but when it comes to national security, we’re often dealing with people in the field whose lives may be put at risk or the safety and security and the ability of our military or our intelligence teams or our embassies to function effectively, and that has to be kept in mind,” the president said.
“So with respect to Wikileaks, I don’t see a contradiction,” Obama said. “First of all, I haven’t commented on Wikileaks generally. The conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking were not conclusive as to whether Wikileaks was witting or not in being the conduit to which we heard about the DNC emails that were leaked.”
The president said he didn’t “pay a lot of attention” to Julian Assange’s tweets, “so that wasn’t a consideration in this instance, and I’d refer you to the Justice Department for any criminal investigations, indictments, extradition issues that may come up with him.”
Obama said the U.S. must continue to “to find the right balance of accountability and openness and transparency that is the hallmark of our democracy but also recognize that there are adversaries and bad actors out there who want to use that same openness in ways that hurt us.”
The president cited financial crimes, acts of terrorism, and interference in the U.S. election as examples.
“We’re gonna have to continually build the kind of architecture to make sure the best of our democracy’s preserved, that our national security and intelligence agencies have the ability to carry out policies without advertising to our adversaries what it is that we’re doing,” Obama said.
“But with respect to Chelsea Manning, I looked at the particulars of this case the same way I’ve looked at the other commutations and pardons that I’ve done, and I felt that in light of all the circumstances that commuting her sentence was entirely appropriate,” he added.