NSA whistleblower who leaked Russian hacking report petitions for clemency

Richard Luscombe
Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters

Supporters of Reality Winner, a National Security Agency whistleblower who leaked classified information about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, petitioned Donald Trump on Monday for her early release from prison.

Alison Grinter, an attorney representing the former US air force intelligence specialist, announced at a press conference in Dallas that she had submitted 4,500 letters of support to the federal office of the pardon attorney, the division of the Department of Justice that advises the US president on executive clemency decisions.

Winner was sentenced to five years and three months in August 2018 after admitting breaching the espionage act by passing top secret documents to an investigative news website about the Russian hacking of voting software and its efforts to disrupt dozens of local election systems ahead of the 2016 election.

“Our country was attacked by a hostile foreign power,” The Intercept quoted Grinter as saying at the press conference.

“Our national healing process cannot begin until we forgive our truth tellers and begin the job of rebuilding what was taken from us: election security, accountability for those who endeavor to undermine our democracy; and safeguarding the American right to government by and for the people. None of this can begin in earnest while we are still punishing those who tell us the truth.”

The petition states of Winner, 28: “Her continued incarceration is costly, unnecessary to protect the public, burdensome to her health and wellbeing, and not commensurate with the severity of her offense.”

Trump called Winner’s sentence “unfair” in an August 2018 tweet attacking then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, describing her actions as “small potatoes” compared to what he alleged his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton had done with classified information while she was secretary of state during the administration of Barack Obama.

A three-year state department investigation cleared Clinton of any wrongdoing in October 2019.

Winner said of Trump in a phone interview with CBS News from Georgia’s Lincoln county jail in 2018 that she “can’t thank him enough” for the tweet, which she said confirmed her lawyers’ view that the sentence was unfair.

The Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment from the Guardian on Monday.