Chelsea Manning’s Release May Not Be the End of Her Troubles

When I wrote this post noting that Judge Anthony Trenga had ordered Chelsea Manning be released, I admitted, I don’t know what it means. I was hoping that when her lawyers released a statement it would bring more clarity. But that statement — released hours after the release — offered no such clarity (though it does make it clear that right now her focus is on recovering from the suicide attempt and malign effects of incarceration, not any celebration of her freedom). It attributed her release to “the apparent conclusion” of the grand jury.

Judge Anthony Trenga today ordered Chelsea Manning’s release from confinement, after the apparent conclusion of the grand jury to which she had been subpoenaed, and before which she refused to testify. He further ordered that she pay $256,000 in fines which accrued each day she refused to cooperate with the grand jury.

Needless to say we are relieved and ask that you respect her privacy while she gets on her feet.

That tells us no more than Trenga’s opinion revealed and arguably shifts the emphasis from “the business of” the grand jury to the grand jury itself. There’s no reason to believe this grand jury expired (it was understood to be a newly seated one last May, which should mean it would have two more months). Rather, written two days after the grand jury appearance scheduled, Trenga’s opinion says the grand jury is done with whatever it was doing.

That’s one of the reasons I focused so closely on what prosecutors told Jeremy Hammond Tuesday, when he also refused to testify before the grand jury. They asserted that Julian Assange is a Russian spy.

“What could the United States government do that could get you to change your mind and obey the law here? Cause you know” — he basically says — “I know you think you’re doing the honorable thing here, you’re very smart, but Julian Assange, he’s not worth it for you, he’s not worth your sacrifice, you know he’s a Russian spy, you know.”


He implied that all options are on the table, they could press for — he didn’t say it directly, but he said they could press for criminal contempt. … Then he implies that you could still look like you disobeyed but we could keep it a secret — “nobody has to know I just want to know about Julian Assange … I don’t know why you’re defending this guy, he’s a Russian spy. He fucking helped Trump win the election.”

Amid suggestions that prosecutors were considering further legal means against Hammond, one of them used the example of Bartleby the Scrivener — whose example Hammond had followed in the grand jury in preferring not to answer questions — to remind that refusing to answer questions led Bartleby to die in prison.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying I agree with that observation, nor am I ceding that prosecutors definitely have proof that Assange is a Russian spy. But unless you believe that Hammond entirely made up these two exchanges, then everyone on all sides of the WikiLeaks divide would do well to take note of it. Julian Assange’s prosecutors are asserting to a witness that he is a Russian spy, which is far more than they’ve put into any indictment, yet.

Hammond suggested that when prosecutors “implied that all options are on the table,” he took that to mean he might be held in criminal contempt. Manning’s camp was expressing similar concerns before the grand jury appointment on Tuesday, that they believed the government might respond to her bid to be released by ratcheting up her legal exposure. But if prosecutors really do believe Assange is a Russian spy, it would give them tools far beyond criminal contempt.

It is a crime by itself in the US to refuse to tell authorities about espionage. As Ron Wyden’s bill to fix the Espionage Act makes clear, prosecutors can charge someone under the Espionage Act for conspiracy, aiding and abetting, accessory after the fact, or misprision of a felony. Misprision is effectively not telling a court or other authority about what you know as soon as possible.

Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years

And under the Espionage Act statute Assange has already been charged under as well as 18 USC § 794 (sharing defense information with a foreign government like Russia), such conspiracy language exposes the person found conspiring not to just three years, but to the same punishments as the person himself. If Julian Assange shared with Russia some of the information Manning shared with him, for example, that may expose her for his acts.

This is why I focused so intently on the language that prosecutors in the Joshua Schulte case were using, treating WikiLeaks as a criminal organization. If the federal government currently conceives of WikiLeaks in these terms, it means Hammond and Manning’s silence may expose them far more than they or their current advisors seem to be envisioning. And that was based off language describing WikiLeaks like an organized crime entity, not someone led by (as prosecutors claimed the other day) a Russian spy.

Again, I am not defending this stance. I’m not saying I agree with it. I’m making an observation that people on all sides of the WikiLeaks divide — but especially those caught in the spell of the lies that Assange’s people are telling to combat extradition — would do well to note.

The government is using language that is far, far more serious than virtually anyone seems to be accounting for, including Manning and Hammond. Prosecutors may well have been blowing smoke to try to cow Hammond into cooperating. Or they may have been putting Hammond on notice of the stakes he was facing.

28 replies
  1. Alan says:

    If the Grand Jury only had two months left, maybe they were discharged and sent home (instead of being temporarily adorned) due to Covid-19.

      • BobCon says:

        I would assume defendants would have a valid argument that trials need to happen before a live jury. Are there reasons that Grand Juries would need to be assembled in a room to hear evidence, or could this in theory happen remotely?

        I know as a logistical matter it’s not an option, of course, with the risk of technical glitches in transmissions, security issues, etc.

        • bmaz says:

          Ooof, not positive, but the thought that grand juries could lob in remotely scares the crap out of me. I don’t think so, and precisely for the reasons you mention.

          As to petit trial juries, yes, that is pretty much a right in most cases. Speedy trial rights may be a problem here and there, but likely not too much.

  2. bmaz says:

    “Prosecutors may well have been blowing smoke to try to cow Hammond into cooperating. Or they may have been putting Hammond on notice of the stakes he was facing.”

    Yes. And, despite what some media kept claiming during the Mueller probe and aftermath, conspiracy is really not that hard to prove to a jury. It happens every day all across the country. In fact, it is the kind of catchall that often makes guilty verdicts easier. So, it is hard to see how this is over for either Manning or Hammond.

        • ducktree says:

          Doubtful, but “Miss Prism” was the character in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, she who absentmindedly left the baby in the ordinary leather handbag at Victoria Station. . . I think it was the Brighton Line.

    • bmaz says:

      Naw, in fairness, that is probably more me than Marcy. In further fairness, it is a little known and/or discussed law, and one that spell check likely does not understand at all.

  3. Cryptome says:

    If accurate, “I don’t know why you’re defending this guy, he’s a Russian spy. He fucking helped Trump win the election,” this claim by a federal official is daredevilish inviting for retaliation by Trump’s cartel. Could be just hamming to ridicule Hammond’s balk, standard ploy for investigators. A lot of that deception in the Schulte probe, and much more in natsec ops leakage to posterize reporting (along with FOIA withholding, teasing, redacting, margin noting, classifying, turncoating, insidering, labor woeing). This drawn-out hyperbolized Get Assange/Crucify Schulte campaign smacks of a ultra-costuming extra-godawful, newly minted and deployed spy PR-ware, richly AI’ed. If so, nobody is not outside the loop.

    • emptywheel says:

      Perhaps. There is no way to understand the Schulte evidence except that he’s a habitual and not very convincing liar. That said, while he clearly had comms with WikiLeaks later in the process, it’s not clear at what level those were.

      It can both be the case that USG used informant on top of informant to try to get a confession from him (three informants were discussed in the trial and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more), and that Schulte is someone who has successfully hidden behind a wall of lies thus far.

      And none of that changes the fact that if the government is treating Assange as a Russian spy, it changes the legal exposure for Hammond and Manning significantly.

  4. JonKnowsNothing says:


    18 USC § 794 (sharing defense information with a foreign government…

    As much of the world and world’s governments have, do, or maybe able, to read information on WL, what’s the potential penalty for information going to those governments? UK, 27 nations of the EU, and after that I don’t know how to count the rest of the globe: Asia, south America, Africa, even governments out on Pacific Island chains.

    Maybe the level of punishment is something like 2,000 years+life? (50 yrs + for Assange per some reports * (bunch of govs) ).

    Doesn’t seem like many carrots are in offering… Oh we will only give you 1,000 years+life if you say what we want you to say??

    What’s the worst prison sentence they are pushing?

    There is always Death by Fed Execution which can be tacked on too now that it is back on the stock shelves?

    1000years + life + shortened by death is that what they are offering up as cooked carrots?

  5. Victoria Murchisen says:

    If Chelsea Manning’s release is not the end of her troubles, I wonder if she has the option of expatriating. We’ve never seen the fine print in her commutation. In 2017 she told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer that there are certain things she’s legally prevented from discussing, presumably related to classified info. Yet while her public speech may be restricted, her travel abroad is not. In 2017 she was turned back by the Canada Border Services Agency for their own reasons. But in May 2018 they relented and let her into Montreal for a paid gig. Also that month, she appeared in Germany and Italy, and subsequently visited Denmark, London, and New Zealand. My point is, Chelsea Manning seems free to leave the U.S. whenever she likes—unless there are strings attached to her latest release from jail. I wonder what emptywheel thinks of Manning moving abroad to avoid further legal hassles. Or would the long arm of the law stretch to wherever Chelsea might resettle?

    • bmaz says:

      Any evidence of that? To my knowledge, she was released upon commutation and that is that. It would be stunning, and illegal, for there to be First Amendment free speech restriction involved. I challenge you to produce evidence of that. But you won’t and cannot.

      As far as “moving abroad to avoid further legal hassles”, she better go to a place where there is no extradition. What is it about Manning that makes you think she should not be a decent and responsible citizen, and is somehow magically above and excepted from our law?

      [PS: Are you Alan Kurtz? Sock puppets are not allowed here]

      • subtropolis says:

        Easy. Victoria was simply expressing some speculation (“I wonder if …”) and inviting comment, rather than making any assertions.

    • emptywheel says:

      Canada does not admit most US felons. As for this, there should be absolutely no limits on her travel (as there weren’t after her commutation), bc the contempt has been lifted.

      • bmaz says:

        They even have an issue with misdemeanants. Been a while, but I had a client convicted of a common DWI who was a significant stage producer for bands. Later, the tour at the time was headed from Detroit into Canada, and he did not make it. Plucked off of a semi with all the equipment.

        • P J Evans says:

          There’s also a science fiction writer in Canada who can’t come to the US because of a DUI.

        • bmaz says:

          Yeah. This guy was not driving or anything. But he was a lead roadie, and it sucked he could not make it. Weird. And that was well before Trump.

    • Victoria Murchisen says:

      My bad. I confused The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer with The New Yorker’s Larissa MacFarquhar, who interviewed Chelsea Manning at the 2017 New Yorker Festival. Here’s the link.
      Exchange at 15:15
      Q. Can you describe it [“Collateral Murder”]?
      A. I can’t. I can’t legally do that. I can’t describe what’s in the video. I don’t have the authorization.
      Exchange at 19:08
      Q. [re WikiLeaks not redacting names from her leaks]
      A. I’m not going to get into this debate right now. I can’t. I’m legally obligated to not discuss any of this.

      Manning also tweeted twice in 2017 about the legal restrictions on her speech.

      9:32 PM – 10 Jul 2017
      i was still working at the time, so im actually barred from comment [on Bowe Bergdahl]

      7:21 PM – 14 Jul 2017
      technically, i cant read, comment on, discuss, or even look at any leaked material, even if it was after 2010

      • emptywheel says:

        Right: That’s because of her NDA. It would be ongoing classification violations. Those are for life.

  6. sneakynordic says:

    If the GJ’s work has concluded, what are the relevant deadlines? There’s a DOJ policy of not announcing politically-related indictments ahead of elections? And if Assange is indicted, there’s an upcoming deadline to add those charges to his extradition?

  7. jaango says:

    Over these many years, and when it comes to Assange and his assorted “players”, I have not espoused any guilt or non-guilt what he and his political cohorts did or have attempted to achieve. Thus, this overall effort, has been a blatant waste of time and more so, when small-minded journalism is used to insert itself into the political arena. Consequently, ‘entering’ into this arena between Russia and the United States, has been incomprehensible to me.

    And yet, all along, Assange and co-horts have attempted to establish an “assange movement” or a much larger platform that would be recognized as the “wiki-leaks platform.” Further, these two ‘movements’ collapsed due to this international political influence. Had this effort remained focus on the politics of Europe, some success could have been achieved. And unfortunately, they, collectively, never reached out to the awaiting masses.

    I come at this ‘view’ from the standpoint of the Chicano Movement of the 1960’s and where today, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appoiinted Officials have over 7,000 members and where this level of politics, is having a geographical impact, and to the point, where here in my home town of Phoenix, Arizona, will have a Latino “majority” in ten years.

    Consequently, Assange and his political co-hort, have no ‘resonance’ in the arena of unity and self-empowerment. And obviously, the “money” criteria for the grift and the graft, was not waiting for them. However, the political allies ‘captured’ them from the outset, and thusly, closed themselves for for any greater interaction with the general public.

Comments are closed.