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Is Chelsea Manning eligible to run for U.S. Senate?

Senate candidate Chelsea Manning at her home in Rockville, Md. As an Army private, Manning was convicted of passing government secrets to WikiLeaks. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Questions about Chelsea Manning's eligibility to run for U.S. Senate in Maryland could imperil her already steep path to the Democratic nomination against two-term Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison and received a dishonorable discharge from the Army for passing government secrets to WikiLeaks in violation of the Espionage Act.

While her case is on appeal, she is on a technical form of unpaid active duty, putting her political campaign at odds with Defense Department regulations that prohibit military personnel from seeking public office.

The Army declined to comment on her campaign, citing the ongoing appeal.

Experts said the Army would have little to gain by pursuing action against Manning for her decision to enter politics.

"The military's interests are not really served by making a big deal about this," said Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School and runs a blog that addressed the subject. "In principle, I'm sure the Army would like for the Manning case to recede into the mist of history."

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Manning served about seven years at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas after President Barack Obama commuted her military court-imposed sentence in 2017, days before he left office.

She stepped out of prison in May and later returned to Maryland, where her family lives.

Shortly after she launched her Senate bid, conservative media questioned her eligibility to run. A Daily Caller headline read, "Former Military Lawyers: Chelsea Manning Subject To Prosecution For Running For Office."

Manning, who is running as an anti-establishment alternative to Cardin, shrugged off the apparent conflict.

"If you ask me, this doesn't sound like a story beyond the conservative blogosphere," Kelly Wright, a spokeswoman for the Manning campaign, said in a statement.

This month, Manning filed documents with the Federal Election Commission to raise money to challenge Cardin in the June 26 primary and with the Maryland Board of Elections to have her name placed on the ballot.

The state agency verified that she meets the constitutionally mandated criteria to run for Senate: She's a U.S. citizen, a Maryland resident and at least 30 years old, said Jared DeMarinis, director of the candidacy and campaign finance division of the Maryland Board of Elections.

To challenge a candidate's qualifications to be on the ballot, any registered voter could file a lawsuit, but as of Wednesday no such action had been taken against Manning, he said.

Fidell, the military justice expert, said the military prohibits campaigning by soldiers on active duty "to keep the military out of politics."

The Defense Department could send Manning a letter, put the case back into disciplinary mode or even gear up another court-martial, he said.

But Fidell said he considers it unlikely the Army would take action against her for a simple reason: "Services don't like to create martyrs."

Read more:

From her Rockville high-rise, Chelsea Manning readies for ne push against the establishment

Manning denies betraying the U.S. by passing secrets to WikiLeaks