Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning is petitioning a Virginia federal judge to let her out of jail, saying Wednesday that she will never testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.
Manning has been held in the Alexandria Detention Center for about 11 months after declining to answer questions about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, with whom she shared hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010. President Barack Obama commuted the rest of her 35-year military prison sentence in 2017.
In a letter to the court, Manning argued that the entire grand jury process is tainted by political, selective enforcement.
“The Attorney General was in contempt of a congressional subpoena but faced no consequences,” she wrote in a letter to Judge Anthony Trenga. “The President has been instructing his associates not to comply with grand jury subpoenas and witness subpoenas for at least two years, and has even fired people for their compliance with subpoenas. It is clear that the rules are different for different people.”
But Manning’s arguments conflate testimony before a grand jury with that ordered by Congress. Although some Trump officials have refused subpoenas by Congress, those who have refused to appear in front of grand juries face contempt of court punishments, as she has.
Congress has the power to issue subpoenas demanding that witnesses appear and evidence be presented, but the Senate and the House don’t have the same enforcement powers of a federal or state prosecutor. The House has voted to hold Trump administration officials in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas; a legal battle over whether those subpoenas are enforceable is ongoing.
Manning has been ordered to pay a $1,000 daily fine imposed by the judge. She can be held in civil contempt for up to 18 months.
“There’s nothing dishonorable in discharging your responsibility as a U.S. citizen,” Trenga told her at one hearing.
But civil contempt is meant to be coercive, not punitive, and end if the witness shows there is no reasonable possibility that she can be moved.
Manning said that she is prepared to spend seven more months in jail, but that keeping her there serves no purpose.
“I have been separated from my loved ones, deprived of sunlight, and could not even attend my mother’s funeral,” she wrote in her filing. “It is easier to endure these hardships now than to cooperate to win back some comfort, and live the rest of my life knowing that I acted out of self-interest and not principle.”
Prosecutors have argued that Manning’s testimony remains relevant to their case against Assange, who is charged with violating the Espionage Act for helping Manning expose secret war logs and diplomatic cables.
Assange is fighting extradition from Britain, arguing that his prosecution is politically motivated. On Wednesday, his attorney claimed that Assange was offered a pardon by the Trump administration if he agreed to say that Russia was not involved in leaking Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Another hacker who interacted with WikiLeaks, Jeremy Hammond, is also incarcerated in Alexandria for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury.
The Washington Post