Reality Winner, a former National Security Agency contractor who was jailed for leaking a classified document about Russian interference in the 2016 elections, thanked President Trump on Thursday for calling her punishment “so unfair.”
Winner, 26, was sentenced last week to more than five years in prison for the leak, with an additional three years of supervised release, the longest sentence given to someone for such a crime, her attorneys said. She is the first person to be charged under the Espionage Act during the Trump administration.
In an interview Thursday with “CBS This Morning,” Winner told host Norah O’Donnell from a Georgia county jail she “deeply” regrets having leaked the report to the media and appreciated Trump for verbalizing what she and her family had not been able to for more than a year.
“You know, even our commander in chief, President Trump, has kind of come out and said, ‘Wait a minute, this is really unfair, there’s this double standard here,’ " Winner told O’Donnell. “And for that I can’t thank him enough because for 16 months those words ‘so unfair’ were actually not allowed by myself or my team or my family to say out in the public.”
Trump, on Friday, tweeted Winner’s case was “small potatoes” and suggested it did not merit the 63-month jail sentence she had received.
“So unfair Jeff, Double Standard,” Trump tweeted, calling out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom the president has been increasingly at odds.
The president did not, however, indicate whether he would be open to pardoning Winner or commuting her sentence, something her supporters have pushed for since the former U.S. intelligence contractor was charged.
Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told The Washington Post she has tried calling and emailing the White House about meeting with officials regarding her daughter’s case but has not heard back. Their family is now starting the lengthy process of requesting a pardon, she said.
Winner pleaded guilty in June to mishandling government secrets. Relief the judge had accepted Winner’s plea deal was quickly followed by bitterness and anger over the impression her daughter, a veteran and former linguist in the military, was being made into an example, Winner-Davis said.
“Reality is not getting a long sentence because of what she did, so much. Yes, the crime was serious. But more so, they want to make sure this is a deterrent to keep other people from doing this,” Winner-Davis said. “I can’t see it any other way right now. Here we have a 26-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran who leaked one document one time and yet she is getting the harshest, longest sentence ever.”
Winner’s case has had the unusual effect of drawing supportive responses from across the political spectrum. About a half-dozen nonprofit organizations and social-justice groups — including RootsAction, Defending Rights & Dissent and Code Pink — have organized an online petition asking Trump to commute Winner’s sentence or pardon her outright.
On Thursday, Mike Cernovich, a prominent alt-right figure and conspiracy theorist, also posted several tweets in support of Winner. Though he said he did not think Trump should fully pardon the former contractor, he did say the president should commute her sentence.
“Reality Winner wasn’t a traitor. She leaked a document,” Cernovich tweeted. “For this she deserved to lose her job, clearance, and have a criminal record. Five years in prison is absurd and vindictive.”
The curious cross-spectrum outpouring for her daughter has been “vindicating,” Winner-Davis said.
“That does surprise me but it’s such a welcome surprise,” she said. “And now to have everyone, including President Trump, indicate her sentence is unfair — it’s validation for her and for me.”
She admitted she has not been a Trump supporter and leans more to the left, though she would not consider herself a Democrat, either.
“A lot of the policies and ideals, as far as his administration, they don’t match up with who I am and what I’ve been my entire life,” Winner-Davis said. Nevertheless, she said she was “very grateful” for Trump’s comments.
On Thursday, Winner and her mother said they did not know what to expect moving forward.
“I don’t like to assume anything as to what’s going on in [Trump’s] head, but the ‘small potatoes’ was a breath of fresh air,” Winner told CBS This Morning. “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.”