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Convicted leaker Reality Winner asks Biden for a pardon

3 min read

Convicted leaker Reality Winner has asked President Biden for a pardon in a petition filed Wednesday. Winner was an Air Force veteran working as a contractor for the National Security Agency when she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept in 2017 that outlined Russian interference in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election through a phishing campaign aimed at election officials.

Winner was tracked down by the FBI, acting on a request from the NSA, and arrested in June 2017. She was arraigned in court just hours after The Intercept’s story appeared online, alongside a redacted copy of the document.

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Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor charged by the U.S. Department of Justice for sending classified material to a news organization, poses in a picture posted to her Instagram account. 

Handout


Winner later pleaded guilty to violating the Espionage Act and spent four years behind bars, before finishing her sentence on supervised home release. She’s currently serving three years of supervised release.

In her petition to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, Winner wrote, “Forgiveness is never earned, nor is grace deserved, and I confessed my guilt to the crime I knowingly committed. I was, however, denied the opportunity to explain the reasons for my actions to a jury, and so I would offer that explanation here in the hope that forgiveness and grace might find me through understanding.”

Winner described why she leaked the document in an interview with “60 Minutes” last year after her release from prison.

“I just kept thinking, ‘My God, somebody needs to step forward and put this right. Somebody.'”

“You knew it was stamped ‘Top Secret.’ You knew what that meant,” said correspondent Scott Pelley.

“I knew that. I knew it was secret,” Winner replied. “But I also knew that I had pledged service to the American people. And at that point in time, it felt like they were being led astray.”

In her pardon petition, Winner said “the people needed to know that a hostile foreign government actually had made serious encroachments into the infrastructure of our elections.” She said while she knowingly violated her oath, “my breach did not compromise any human assets, or put troops or our allies at risk or in danger.”


Reality Winner sentenced to more than 5 years

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Winner said she served out her 63-month sentence of incarceration, which was at the time the longest sentence given to a civilian for leaking classified information to the press.

Winner’s attorney was blunt in her letter to the DOJ pardon attorney. 

“[T]he fact that she was given the longest ever sentence at the time for a civilian releasing classified information to the press, was undoubtedly a political choice undertaken to please former President Trump,” wrote Alison Grinter.

“It was a choice to protect a hostile foreign government that sought to undermine our foundational democratic structure by demonizing the American who brought the public the details of the attack.”

There is normally a five-year waiting period for filing a pardon application, but Grinter asked that it be waived “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.”

While the Justice Department was investigating and charging Winner with violating the Espionage Act, another branch of the federal government, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, sent out an alert to state and local election officials using the information leaked by Winner to warn of the Russian email phishing campaign.