A former sailor serving time behind bars for mishandling classified information is seeking a presidential pardon from Donald Trump, citing comparatively lenient treatment of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her private email.
Former Machinist's Mate 1st Class Kristian Saucier pleaded guilty this summer to charges relating to six pictures of classified spaces he took on his cell phone on the attack submarine Alexandria. Saucier claims that despite two other sailors on his ship being punished administratively for the same crime in 2011, his case was treated differently in 2015 and 2016.
Saucier claims federal prosecutors and investigators came after him aggressively because of an atmosphere of hypersensitivity surrounding classified information in the wake of the Hillary Clinton email scandal, according to documents provided by his attorney. And while he admits he did wrong by taking photos of his workstation — he claims it was as a memento of his time on the boat — he thinks his sentence of a year in lockup is too severe.
"While my conduct in taking the six photos was admittedly wrong and without excuse, the Department of Justice's heavy-handed response to my misconduct was certainly a product of the scrutiny brought about by a fervent political climate and not by the gravity of my misconduct," Saucier wrote in the petition to the White House filed Monday.
"Indeed, if not for the high level of the Clinton misconduct and the lengthy presidential campaign process, there can be no doubt that my far less egregious acts of taking six photos of my work station would have otherwise been received with a significantly lower form of punishment."
Clinton, during her time as Secretary of State, used a private email server set up in her house to transmit secret and top secret classified information. The FBI recommended that no charges be filed but called her actions "extremely careless."
Saucier landed himself in even more trouble during the investigation because he destroyed a laptop and an SD card after being interviewed by the FBI, which the feds said was obstruction of justice. After pleading guilty and being sentenced in August, Saucier was booted from the service with an "other-than-honorable" discharge.
Saucier’s attorney, Jeffrey Addicott, said he is not hopeful that President Obama will pardon Saucier in the waning days of his administration because of the time it takes for officials to review the case but he is holding out hope that the incoming Trump administration will be sympathetic.
"The reason this case cries out for clemency and pardon is just the gross injustice," he said. "This is a matter of justice and justice isn’t just about whether you are guilty or not — he’s admitted that. It’s about the punishment as well."
Addicott, a retired Army lawyer who now teaches at St. Mary's University School of Law in Texas, is representing the former sailor free of charge. Addicott is simultaneously seeking clemency for Saucier.
Saucier’s case became something of a cause célèbre during the presidential campaign among conservatives who noted that the sailor's treatment at the hands of federal prosecutors relating to confidential information was significantly harsher than Clinton’s treatment. During the sentencing phase, prosecutors called the comparison with Clinton "highly imaginative."
"The defendant is grasping at highly imaginative and speculative straws in trying to...draw a comparison to the matter of Sec. Hilary Clinton based upon virtually no understanding and knowledge of the facts involved, the information at issue, not to mention any issues [of] intent and knowledge," the prosecution wrote in court filing.
'This is not justice'
In his letter to the White House, Saucier cited two other cases of sailors on the same attack submarine who were busted taking pictures on their cell phones. Both sailors were tried at captain’s mast under the military justice system, forfeited some pay and were reduced in rank.
That stands in sharp contrast with how federal investigators treated his case, Saucier said.
"In my case, not only did the Department of Justice take the unusual step to seize the case from the military for federal investigation (which dragged on for almost four years) and prosecution, I received an Other Than Honorable discharge from the Navy ... This is not justice," he wrote.
In concluding the letter, Saucier argued that he never intended to disclose the information to anyone, despite the federal indictment that dripped with insinuation that he was a spy and that the images he took were classified at the lowest level — confidential.
"The irony of this climate of hypersensitivity that caused me severe punishment is that Secretary Hillary Clinton, whose actions resulted in a demand for accountability by a considerable portion of the U.S. population, was never punished for her actions at all, despite jeopardizing far more sensitive information and on a much grander scale," he wrote.
In an interview with Navy Times, Saucier’s mother Kathleen Saucier said she thinks her son was caught up in a dual storm of the Navy cracking down on the use of digital devices on subs and the feds aggressively prosecuting mishandling classified information. Saucier said she was outraged at what she sees as the overzealous prosecution of her son as it compared to Clinton.
"So my son accepts responsibility for his behavior, admits he took the six photos," Kathleen Saucier said. "There’s no evidence he transmitted the photos and he’s sitting in federal prison and has lost all his benefits — his family has lost all their benefits. The judge told him it was for having classified information on an insecure device. How does that compare with Hillary Clinton, who used an insecure device to transmit classified information and there are no criminal charges?"
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.