Some 1.6 million people tune in to “Fox & Friends” every morning, but when Kristian Saucier told the network why he believed he should be pardoned for his national-security-related felony conviction, he clearly had one very specific, very powerful fan of the show in mind: the viewer-in-chief.
“Obviously, there’s two different sets of laws in this country, for the politically elite and for those lower-level individuals, Americans like myself,” he said on the network Sunday. “And I think that’s very upsetting on a basic level for most people. It should be.
“I accepted responsibility. I didn’t go to trial. I pleaded guilty. I said, ‘Look, I made a mistake when I was a young kid, and my family still continues … to be punished for that mistake.’ Whereas Hillary Clinton not only was not punished, but was allowed to run for the highest office in the country, and that should be very upsetting to the American people.”
Less than a week after making that plea, Saucier had his pardon from a man who has uttered very similar words and happens to be the leader of the free world: President Trump.
The timing is probably not at all curious to those who have studied what Politico’s Matthew Gertz called the Trump-Fox feedback loop. New York Times television critic James Poniewozik called “Fox & Friends” the “most powerful TV show in America.”
The show, they’ve said, appears to influence the president’s thoughts and actions.
In one particularly stark example, The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers pointed out, the president quoted one of the show’s graphics on Twitter and appeared to second-guess one of his positions “because an on-air commentator urged him to reconsider.”
So it would make sense that an appearance on what appears to be one of Trump’s most-watched shows would be a key piece of any effort to get a pardon for Saucier.
Ronald Daigle, a lawyer hired to advocate for Saucier’s pardon, told HuffPost that Fox News was a big factor in getting the case on Trump’s radar — and keeping it there.
“Absolutely,” Daigle told HuffPost when asked if Fox News was part of their strategy. “They were big supporters of Kris right from the beginning.”
Saucier’s self-imposed saga started in 2009, when he snapped photos inside the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Alexandria while it was in Groton, Conn. The sailor, then 22, said he only wanted mementos of his service as a machinist's mate on the sub. But federal prosecutors painted him as a disgruntled Navy man whose pictures of the sub’s reactor compartment and propulsion system were a national-security risk.
The photos were discovered by chance in 2012. Saucier left his phone at a garbage dump in Hampton, Conn. A supervisor who found the phone powered it on, and showed the photos of the submarine to a retired Navy buddy who recognized the pictures for what they were. They went to authorities.
When federal agents confronted Saucier about the photos, he said the phone was his but initially denied snapping the pictures. Later, the FBI says, he went home, smashed his computer and camera, and flung the pieces in the woods behind his grandfather’s house.
He pleaded guilty in 2016 and was sentenced to a year in prison. But his case came to the attention of Trump, who was then running for president, and other conservatives.
They argued that Clinton, Trump's Democratic opponent, had done far worse in keeping State Department emails on a private server, but she had not spent a second in prison. “They took the kid who wanted some pictures of the submarine. That’s an old submarine; they’ve got plenty of pictures, if the enemy wants them, they’ve got plenty of them,” Trump said at the time. “He wanted to take a couple of pictures. They put him in jail for a year.”
The cases are not perfectly symmetrical: For example, as The Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Glenn Kessler pointed out, Saucier admitted that he knew what he was doing was illegal, unlike Clinton. And he was charged with destroying evidence after learning he was a target of the investigation.
Saucier has already done his time, spending a year in prison, but he said the felony on his record has dimmed his prospects. He works as a garbage collector. He sought a political pardon to erase the felony from his record.
And Trump’s own words had given him a hook for making his case for a presidential pardon.
“We were doing something to try to capture the attention of the president,” Daigle, the attorney, said.
“When we put the pardon in, we did a news release for that. When we heard back from the pardon office, we put a news release for that. Every step of the way, we’re trying to do what we can to be on the radar, and hopefully the president will hear us. We think he heard us more than once.”