Roger Stone’s Freedom Is All the More Outrageous While Reality Winner Languishes in Prison

Roger Stone | Reality Winner

Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s prison sentence is galling on numerous levels. It’s a brazen act of corruption and an egregious obstruction of an ongoing investigation of the President and his enablers. There are few figures less worthy of clemency than a Nixonian dirty trickster like Stone. But the final twist of the knife is that Reality Winner, the honest, earnest, anti-Stone of the Russian meddling saga, remains in federal prison.

Winner is an Air Force veteran, prosecuted for leaking a classified document detailing Russian attempts to infiltrate state election systems. She was sentenced to serve 63 months, the longest sentence for leaking ever issued in a federal court. Winner has already served more prison time (44 months) than Stone’s entire sentence (40 months).

Winner pled guilty to a single count of transmitting national defense information under the Espionage Act of 1917, a law considered by many to be draconian and illiberal, if not unconstitutional. It has been selectively and vindictively used to punish First Amendment activity of public interest. Undermining government transparency and stifling public dissent was the very intent of its authors.

Stone was convicted of seven counts of false statements and obstruction of justice for lying to Congress, withholding documents, and making violent threats to silence witnesses. Stone attempted to “ratfuck” not just an election, but justice itself. As Robert Mueller wrote: “When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Whereas Stone’s crime was to help Trump cheat the American public and deceive Congress, Winner’s “crime” was to inform the public discourse and reveal the truth. The document she released was classified, but the public interest in election integrity was, and remains, clearly paramount.

The Department of Homeland Security report on Russian targeting of election infrastructure strongly validates the public benefit of her actions. It confirms that the intelligence community’s information sharing on the election threats was woefully slow and inadequate, that over-classification impeded communication, and that many state election officials only heard of the threats after media publication of stories based on the document Winner released. Without the pressure generated by news coverage, DHS may never have been sufficiently motivated to fully brief state officials. Furthermore, what Winner was convicted of revealing was almost identical to the information included in Robert Mueller’s public indictments of Russian hacking units, undercutting the argument that Winner significantly harmed national security.

During her prosecution, Winner was honest, respectful, and contrite. Stone, during his trial, was publicly contemptuous of the entire process, intimidated witnesses, and even posted to Instagram a photo of the judge overlaid with rifle crosshairs.

Before his commutation, Stone complained that his verdict was a “death sentence” because of the spread of COVID-19 through the prison system. Indeed, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a finding in April that “emergency conditions are materially affecting the function of the Bureau of Prisons” and directed the BOP to immediately review all at-risk inmates for potential release to home confinement. Paul Manafort, another convicted Trump campaign operative who made a fortune off shady dealings with foreign despots and oligarchs, was quickly granted home confinement and released from minimum security prison. But Winner, who has a history of respiratory illness and an immune system compromised by bulimia, was denied an appeal to serve out her remaining 19 months on home confinement. Predictably, cases at her facility, FMC Carswell, have skyrocketed and Winner has tested positive for the virus. The surge in cases among inmates raises urgent questions about whether she will be able to receive proper care, or even see a doctor at all.

The treatment of Manafort and Stone versus that of Reality Winner serves a corrosive purpose. Their examples symbolize a carrot and a stick to reward corruption and lies and punish whistleblowing and truth-telling. The deep corrosion of public service into venal personal loyalty under Trump must be aggressively reversed by the next administration. Reality Winner should be fully pardoned on day one. Her continued imprisonment serves no sound public interest. It is only a disservice to the truth, and a chilling deterrent to whistleblowers in the national security and intelligence establishments.

Jesselyn Radack is executive director, and William Neuheisel a civil liberties advocate at the Whistleblower & Source Protection Program at ExposeFacts, which provides legal representation for national security whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Thomas Drake, and was a member of the ‘Stand with Reality’ support committee.