As reported earlier today, Obama granted clemency to Chelsea Manning, reducing her sentence from 35 years to 7 years. This means her release date is now May 17th of this year.
So where does this leave Edward Snowden? Obama’s last say on the matter was back in November to the German newspaper Der Spiegel:
I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves, so that’s not something that I would comment on at this point. At the point at which Mr. Snowden wants to present himself before the legal authorities and make his arguments or have his lawyers make his arguments, then I think those issues come into play. Until that time, what I’ve tried to suggest — both to the American people, but also to the world — is that we do have to balance this issue of privacy and security.
However with the recent reduction in Manning’s sentence, maybe things have changed? Although Snowden hasn’t officially filed for a pardon, hundreds of thousands have signed petitions in support of a pardon and multiple human rights groups including the ACLU, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued public requests.
We can look to Bill Clinton’s final days in office to see a possible outcome. In his last day in office, Clinton pardoned Samuel Loring Morison, who was convicted of sending classified materials to the press. Just like Snowden, he was charged with theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act. Morison provided Jan’s Defense Weekly magazine with three secret satellite photos of an under-construction Soviet aircraft carrier. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) came to Morrison’s defense in a 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton:
The Espionage Act has always been used to prosecute spies, those passing information to foreign powers. The exceptions are exceptional. President Nixon sought the prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo for leaking the Pentagon Papers. Their cases were dismissed. But the Reagan administration successfully prosecuted Mr. Morison.
What is remarkable is not the crime, but that he is the only one convicted of an activity which has become a routine aspect of government life: leaking information to the press in order to bring pressure to bear on a policy question.
As President Kennedy has said, “the ship of state leaks from the top.” An evenhanded prosecution of leakers could imperil an entire administration. If ever there were to be widespread action taken, it would significantly hamper the ability of the press to function.
Samuel Morison, like Snowden, leaked classified information to the press in the service of the public good. Will Obama follow Bill Clinton’s lead and issue a pardon on his final day in office?