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Obama: Chelsea Manning 'served a tough prison sentence'

The president tells reporters that he doesn't think commuting document-leaker Manning's sentence sends a message that the US will tolerate similar crimes.

President Barack Obama tells reporters at his presidency's last news conference Wednesday that his commutation of Chelsea Manning's prison sentence was "entirely appropriate."
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Chelsea Manning may be leaving prison 28 years early, but President Barack Obama doesn't think she's escaping punishment.

"Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence," he told reporters at a press briefing Wednesday.

Manning is currently imprisoned at a maximum security military prison for men at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. She has served seven years of a 35-year prison sentence, which she received in 2013 for leaking hundreds of thousands of military documents and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. (Manning, a transgender woman, was then known as Bradley Manning.) The Obama administration listed Manning among more than 200 people who received pardons or commutations on Tuesday.

"Given that she faced trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received, and that she had served a significant amount of time," Obama said, "it made sense to commute -- and not pardon -- her sentence."

Other people who may be considering leaking classified documents wouldn't be encouraged by Manning's freedom, Obama said.

When it comes to other leakers, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden comes to mind. Snowden, who leaked classified NSA documents about the surveillance programs of the US and its allies to journalists in 2013, is currently staying in Russia and seeking a pardon for charges of espionage and theft.

On Friday, a White House spokesman clarified that the Obama administration views Snowden and Manning differently because Manning went to trial. Snowden was not named on the list of pardoned individuals on Tuesday.

Obama also said an offer from Julian Assange on Twitter to come to the US if Manning was freed had no bearing on his decision. "I don't pay a lot of attention to Mr. Assange's tweets, so that wasn't a consideration," Obama said.

A lawyer for Assange told the Hill on Tuesday that the WikiLeaks founder would not travel to the US after all, because the commutation by Obama didn't free Manning immediately. Manning is scheduled to be released on May 17.

In a press release on Tuesday, the White House said Obama has commuted more sentences than any other US president.

First published Jan. 18, 12:23 p.m. PT
Updated at 5:06 p.m.: Adds Pres. Barack Obama comment on Julian Assange and that Assange's lawyer has said the WikiLeaks founder will not travel to the US as a result of the commutation.

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