Chelsea Manning appeals contempt ruling in Fourth Circuit

March 30, 2019 GMT

Chelsea Manning on Friday asked a federal appeals court to reverse the contempt ruling that recently placed the convicted WikiLeaks source back behind bars.

Lawyers for Manning, a former Army analyst convicting of leaking classified material to the anti-secrecy website, made their case in a filing entered with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals three weeks after her refusal to cooperate with federal prosecutors reexamining those disclosures resulted in her reincarceration.

Manning, 31, served roughly seven years in military prison for convictions related to her role with WikiLeaks prior to having most of her sentence commuted in 2017 by outgoing President Barack Obama. She was recently subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury impaneled in Alexandria, Virginia, and she was found in contempt and jailed after invoking her constitutional rights in lieu of answering questions posed by government prosecutors.

Attorneys for Manning said they suspect prosecutors hoped she would answer questions about her past relationship with WikiLeaks, the subject of a lengthy Department of Justice investigation triggered by her leaks in 2010.

Among the arguments raised by Manning’s lawyers on appeal involve the multiple, credible media reports indicating the existence of a sealed indictment already charging WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange with related crimes.

The Justice Department has refused to publicly confirm whether Mr. Assange, an Australian native, is under investigation and facing charges, but Manning’s lawyers note that recent reporting from outlets including the Washington Post verified that “there is already a charging instrument that has issued with respect to this grand jury.”

“Taken as a whole, this evidence was sufficient to suggest that regardless of the purpose of the grand jury generally, the sole and dominant purpose of the subpoena specifically issued to her was something other than to gather new information per the grand jury’s investigative function,” Manning’s legal team wrote.

Legal precedent prohibits prosecutors from using a grand jury for the main purpose of developing additional evidence against a defendant who has already been charged, the lawyers argued.

“Given that Ms. Manning was subpoenaed only after a charging document issued, evidence suggests that it was the government’s intent to impermissibly ‘use the grand jury to improve its case in an already pending trial by preserving witness statements, locking in a witness’s testimony, pressuring potential trial witnesses to testify favorably or otherwise employing the grand jury for pretrial discovery.’”

“The failure of the District Court to consider the evidence of grand jury abuse, let alone require any assurances of propriety by the government, is reversible error,” the appeal lawyers argued.

Joshua Stueve, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, declined to comment.

Mr. Assange, 47, entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 and subsequently received political asylum. He has resided inside ever since in lieu of facing the likelihood of arrest and potential extradition.

Manning lawyers have argued that she previously provided investigators with a complete accounting of her relationship with WikiLeaks during her Army court-martial and that additional testimony is unnecessary.