'We Need to Forgive the People Who Tell the Truth': Reality Winner's Future Is in Biden's Hands

"At this point all we can do is press the Biden Administration to do the right thing."

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'We Need to Forgive the People Who Tell the Truth': Reality Winner's Future Is in Biden's Hands
Photo:Sean Rayford (Getty Images)

Former NSA contractor Reality Winner has been released from prison and will serve the remainder of her sentence in a residential reentry program, according to a statement from her attorney today. As The Verge reports, the Federal Bureau of Prisons lists Winner as being in the custody of San Antonio’s Residential Reentry Management office, with a release date of November 23rd, 2021. But as her legal team noted in their statement, the move was “not a product of the pardon or compassionate release process” Winner’s advocates have long requested.

“It feels like the temperature has been turned down at least in regards to Reality’s personal emergency,” Alison Grinter Allen, Winner’s attorney, tells Jezebel. But as far as Winner’s request for clemency, she says, “at this point what we can do is bring as much attention to Reality’s case as possible, and press the Biden administration to do the right thing.”

Winner was arrested in 2017 shortly after the FBI collected evidence the former translator had given classified documents about Russian hackers targeting U.S. elections to The Intercept. It was the first instance of a criminal charge against a whistleblower for providing information to reporters during the Trump Administration. “She was the first whistleblower of the Trump era,” the head of the Press Freedom Defense Fund said in May. “And she as easy to go after: A young nobody.”

In 2018, Winner pled guilty to one felony count of transmission of national defense information under the Espionage Act and was sentenced to more than five years in prison. At the time, prosecutors said it was the longest ever imposed for the release of government information to the media.

Since then, Winner’s family and government transparency advocates have advocated for her release. In February of 2020, Winner petitioned then-President Trump for clemency. In April of the same year, a federal judge rejected a request to commute her remaining sentence after her attorneys argued for compassionate release given the covid-19 pandemic and Winner’s medical history. Despite these attempts to secure her release, Winner remained in prison until she was transferred to a halfway house on June 2. She contracted covid-19 in July of 2020.

This month, Winner’s family told MSNBC that she “should be given a pardon and President Biden owes Reality gratitude,” criticizing the president’s “radio silence” on the issue. According to Allen, Winner is currently barred from speaking to the press but recently became an aunt and is looking forward to “getting to know the family that arrived while she was gone.” Her office is still pursuing the request for clemency, though as Allen notes the pardon process can be “where dreams go to die.”

“We’ve made the application and basically now the ball is in the President’s hands,” she says. “The county is really divided on the issue of acknowledging facts …. If we’re going to go forward and have a successful democracy we need to forgive the people who tell us the truth.”

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