Justice Department: NSA Whistleblower Reality Winner Must Wait To Apply For Pardon

NSA whistleblower Reality Winner (Screen shot from CBS' "60 Minutes")

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The United States Justice Department will not grant a waiver to NSA whistleblower Reality Winner so she can apply for a pardon.

All individuals formerly incarcerated in federal prisons are typically required to wait five years after their last day of confinement before their pardon application may be considered, unless there are "exceptional circumstances."

Winner was prosecuted by the Justice Department under President Donald Trump. She pled guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act when she disclosed an NSA report to The Intercept. She believed the report contained evidence of Russian hackers targeting US voter registration systems during the 2016 election.

On June 2, 2021, Winner was released from Federal Medical Center Carswell in Texas and placed under house arrest until November 23. She is living under restrictive probation until November 23, 2024, and has a job where she works a few days a week.

Winner’s attorney Alison Grinter sent a letter to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney on June 29 and singled out Trump's actions.

“We are asking that the waiting period be waived on this application for pardon because as the former President has been shown to have had no respect for our democratic institutions and norms and has shown a willingness to subvert, manipulate, and hide the truth, now is the right time to forgive those who brought us the truth when we needed to know it,” Grinter argued.

Grinter further maintained that it was necessary to stand up to “political retaliation and scapegoat scare tactics” and pardoning Winner would help bring about healing and reconciliation. She also contended, as the US government is focused on fighting Russia in Ukraine, it is wrong for the Justice Department to continue to punish Winner.

On August 3, four days after National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, the Office of the Pardon Attorney replied, “We have concluded that it would not be appropriate to grant a waiver of the waiting period in her case to permit her to apply for a pardon at this time.”

The response mostly quoted the guideline that the Justice Department often follows, but it also was insulting to Winner.

“While we are sympathetic to her desire for clemency, we do not believe that her circumstances in this regard are so unusual as to justify a waiver of the waiting period,” the response stated. “Waivers are infrequently granted and then only for particularly compelling reasons. It may ultimately be to your client’s benefit to wait the full five years to demonstrate that she has become fully rehabilitated and is a contributing member of society.”

The idea that someone could complete a prison sentence, go through house arrest, obtain employment, and still not be considered “fully rehabilitated” and a “contributing member of society” is atrocious. However, that idea is woven into the fabric of the mass incarceration system.

Winner will never again be hired by a company or government agency that grants her access to classified information, which she could disclose to the news media. The chance of repeating her offense is zero. Add that to the absurd notion that she is not already “fully rehabilitated.”

The "compelling reason" for granting a waiver is that Winner had a whistleblowing motive when she made her disclosure, and there is nothing for the Justice Department to “rehabilitate." It was abusive for prosecutors to sentence Winner to five years and three months in prison for giving one classified document to a media organization (that was not even truly sensitive material).

CBS' long-running news program "60 Minutes" re-aired their December 2021 segment featuring Winner on July 24. She trended on Twitter, and it brought renewed attention to her case. However, the widespread public support did not convince the Justice Department to act compassionately and waive the wait period.

Winner described life under probation during an interview for the “This Is Reality” podcast. She is drug tested every month. She has a 10pm curfew, which lasts until 6 am. She must be at her parents’ home each night. They want her to ask permission before doing interviews for the news media.

Until November 2024, Winner is not allowed to travel anywhere. That presumably includes trips that might help her become a “contributing member of society,” as the Justice Department would say.

“I cannot leave the Southern District of Texas, which extends from just south of Houston along the coast,” Winner added.

Winner’s boss had to sign a letter indicating she was “absolutely needed” so she could go to work at 5am—during her curfew.

“Other than the fact that I can now get a job in the local community,” Winner said, “I’m still on home confinement.”

Winner is outspoken about the incarceration system in the United States that still controls her life.

“I’m a mass incarceration abolitionist. So I think that the prison industrial complex needs to be completely abolished. I don’t think that means an America without prisons entirely, but it does mean that we need to decrease our prison population by at least 75 percent. And this is at the federal, state, and county levels.”