Sen. Menendez: Obama Commuting Chelsea Manning's Sentence a National Security Risk

January 17, 2017

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday that he has "serious concerns" about President Obama's decision to commute the bulk of Chelsea Manning's 35-year sentence for giving classified information to WikiLeaks pertaining to intelligence information on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Well, I don't know why he did it, and so I'll look forward to hearing his reasoning because I just heard about it," Menendez said. "But the reality is I have serious concerns about equivocating sentences when national security is at stake."

Menendez said that Manning released hundreds of thousands of documents, resulting in increased risks for national security and individual operatives. He also questioned the message the commutation sends with Congress currently investigating Russia and the apparent role that it played during the presidential election allegedly coordinating with WikiLeaks.

"I'm not sure what type of message we send here, so I'm really surprised that the president took this action, and I have concerns about what message we send about ultimately revealing sensitive national security documents," Menendez said.

When asked for clarification about what he would like to hear from Obama, Menendez said that he would like to know why the president took the steps to commute Manning's sentence considering the message that it sends to future individuals who want to release classified information.

"At the end of the day, we are going to have to have a clear and unequivocal message that you cannot ultimately put the United States at risk  because of your individual actions by making public critical documents that are classified and secret and put the U.S. at risk at the end of the day," Menendez said.

Blitzer said that critics are already saying Obama's decision is only sending a message to others in the intelligence community that they can leak confidential information to WikiLeaks and down the road probably get a more lenient sentence.

Menendez agreed with that assessment and said it is a "valid" argument.

Manning was found guilty in 2013 and was originally set to serve her sentence until May 17, 2045, the Washington Free Beacon previously reported.

The sentence was the longest punishment ever imposed on an American for leaking information from military documents.

Manning, a transgender woman whose first name was Bradley at the time, was a low-level intelligence analyst in the Army deployed to Iraq when she copied 750,000 pages of military documents and videos. She sent the information to WikiLeaks, which subsequently published the sensitive information for the public to see.

Among the files leaked were over 250,000 sensitive diplomatic cables with dossiers providing intelligence assessments of Guantanamo Bay military prison detainees, as well as a video in which two Reuters journalists were killed in an airstrike, among other information.