An all-star lineup of American turncoats and deserters are lining up for the pardon party President Obama is throwing on his way out of the Oval Office.
Lawyers for Sgt. Bergdahl and Manning have written to Mr. Obama in recent days requesting clemency, while a celebrity-studded group including liberal billionaire George Soros is pushing for an unlikely presidential pardon for Mr. Snowden.
While it’s common for lame-duck presidents to receive a flood of clemency requests before their term expires, the pleas in these notorious cases are landing on the desk of a president who has set a record for leniency with more than 1,000 commutations, exceeding the previous 11 presidents combined. The vast majority of Mr. Obama’s commutations have been granted in drug cases as the president seeks a measure of unilateral criminal justice reform.
The Bergdahl case might be the most politically charged.
During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump called Sgt. Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor” and criticized Mr. Obama’s five-for-one prisoner swap with the Taliban to secure the release of the American soldier who had been held as a prisoner of war for five years.
But the Obama White House also has been accused of taking sides in the case. Upon Sgt. Bergdahl’s release, Mr. Obama hosted his parents in a celebratory Rose Garden event at the White House, and National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice said Sgt. Bergdahl served his country with “honor and distinction.”
Susan Hennessey, a specialist on national security at the Brookings Institution, said it’s “entirely possible” that Mr. Obama will pardon Sgt. Bergdahl.
“Many people, including those on Obama’s national security council, believed the administration underestimated and mismanaged the political response to Bergdahl’s rescue,” she said. “If Obama agrees that Bergdahl has been unfairly prejudiced because his complex case was politicized by Obama’s opponents, he may feel inclined to issue a pardon.”
The Manning case does not even try to argue about the relative guilt of Manning but is becoming a LGBT issue instead.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of gay rights groups have asked Mr. Obama to commute Manning’s sentence to the seven years she has already served in prison.
“If approved, Ms. Manning will have a first chance to live a real, meaningful life as the person she was born to be,” they wrote, adding that Manning is “being forced to serve out her sentence in an all-male prison.”
“The Army even opposed her request to use her legal name and to be referred to by female pronouns,” their letter stated. “While the armed forces have finally opened the door to transgender men and women who wish to serve, the government has continually fought Ms. Manning’s efforts to be treated with basic dignity.”
Edward Snowden has the most mainstream support among the trio up for pardon.
A group of prominent Americans has been advocating for a pardon for Mr. Snowden, calling him “a hero” whose actions resulted in the curbing of the NSA’s surveillance powers.
“Ed stood up for us, and it’s time for us to stand up for him,” the group said on its website, PardonSnowden.org. The group includes supporters such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former CIA operative Valerie Plame, actor Danny Glover, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, writer Joyce Carol Oates and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
President Obama drew a line in the sand on Snowden earlier but Obama’s lame duck status means he doesn’t have to worry about what he’s said before.
“I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves, so that’s not something that I would comment on at this point,” Mr. Obama told a German newspaper last month.
The president, a former constitutional law professor, actually was incorrect in that assessment. He could issue a pardon in Mr. Snowden’s case at any time.