White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had no comment Thursday on whether President Obama would grant clemency to Chelsea Manning, a transgender former intelligence analyst convicted of leaking classified information.
Earnest said he couldn’t comment on the specific case in response to a question from the Washington Blade about Manning, who’s currently in the seventh year of a 35-year sentence in military prison for leaking information to Wikileaks.
“I’m not going to discuss individual cases,” Earnest said. “There is a process that’s been established at the Department of Justice. For the way that those applications, whether or not those applications have been filed and how they’re being processed is a question you should direct to them.”
Manning, 29, filed a petition for clemency before the White House in the aftermath of the presidential election. The American Civil Liberties Union and a number of LGBT groups have endorsed the petition.
A transgender woman serving in a men’s prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Manning has faced challenges. The Army initially refused to provide her with hormone therapy, but agreed to provide the treatment last year as a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. The Army also initially refused to grant her gender reassignment surgery, but reversed its decision in September after she underwent a hunger strike.
Manning has confirmed to have attempted suicide at least twice, once in July and again as she was sentenced to solitary confinement in November for that initial attempt.
Earnest declined to comment on whether the hardships Manning is facing as result of being transgender would be factors Obama would consider in granting clemency to her.
“At this point, I wouldn’t speculate on what factors the president may consider,” Earnest said. “So there’s a well-established process for considering these clemency petitions, and I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for an update on why that may stand.”
The Justice Department referred the Blade to the U.S. military on Manning’s clemency request. An Army spokesperson told the Washington Blade: “We have no oversight over White House actions.”
Obama has already granted clemency to more incarcerated individuals than the previous 11 presidents combined. If Obama were to commute the sentence for Manning, he would have to do so before President-elect Donald Trump takes office Jan. 20.
“I would anticipate that the process will continue to run until the end,” Earnest said. “But this is a process that cannot be done overnight, that these kinds of applications have to be filed well in advance, and there’s a lot of background work that has to be done before decisions on individual cases can be rendered. So I would not envision a rush to the exits here, but I would anticipate that the process will continue until the last day.”