Alison Grinter, an attorney representing National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Reality Winner, announced at a Monday press conference that the 28-year-old’s legal team is petitioning Donald Trump for an early release from prison. In 2018, A judge sentenced Winner to five years and three months in prison for breaching the espionage act by submitting top-secret NSA documents to the investigative news website The Intercept.
According to The Guardian, Grinter claimed that the legal team submitted 4,500 letters of support to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. The documents in question pertain to intelligence related to Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential elections. Specifically, they reportedly covered the Russian military intelligence’s phishing attacks on local U.S. election officials.
At the conference, Grinter noted the alleged Russian attacks on the U.S. and said that the “national process of healing” can only begin when the country’s “truth tellers” are forgiven, referring to Winner.
The petition calls Winner’s incarceration “costly” and “unnecessary to protect the public,” as well as harming her “health and wellbeing.”
Former NSA analyst Jon Ivy said that Winner was highly respected her colleagues, who he claims praised her and viewed her as one of the agency’s top analysts.
Trump previously commented on Winner’s sentencing back in 2018 and suggested that her crimes were not as severe as those allegedly committed by Hillary Clinton.
Ex-NSA contractor to spend 63 months in jail over “classified” information. Gee, this is “small potatoes” compared to what Hillary Clinton did! So unfair Jeff, Double Standard.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2018
During a 2018 interview, Winner spoke with CBS about Trump’s comment and said she was grateful to the president.
“I don’t like to assume anything as to what’s going on in his head, but the ‘small potatoes’ was a breath of fresh air. It really made me laugh. It reminded me of me and my own family. We try to make a joke out of everything. We laugh every single day no matter how bad things get, and he really gave a whole sense of humor to the thing ’cause it is quite bizarre.”
Despite Trump’s comment, The Intercept previously reported that his administration is weaponizing the surveillance state against whistleblowers. According to the journalist Lee Fang, the Trump administration is using laws such as the 1917 Espionage Act — intended to target spies — to take aim at regular government workers via surveillance technology.
“It is blind to the difference between whistle-blowers and spies,” said Jameel Jaffer, head of the Knight First Amendment Institute.
Per The Intercept, the Trump era has presided over four cases in which whistleblowers have been charged using the Espionage Act, and the accused were allegedly not allowed to defend themselves.