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It’s illegal for Chelsea Manning to run for Senate, former top JAG officer says

Chelsea Manning recently filed to run for a Senate seat in Maryland. (YouTube)
January 23, 2018

Convicted felon and former Army analyst Chelsea Manning filed to run for a U.S. Senate seat this month, but it could be a Defense Department regulation violation and is illegal if Manning continues to run for office in Maryland, a former top Air Force judge advocate (JAG) said.

Manning, 30, is the transgender former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who leaked more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, making it the largest leak in United States history. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but her sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama. Manning was released from prison in May.

Col. Ralph Capio, U.S. Air Force (retired), a former Air Force JAG, told American Military News on Tuesday that if Manning is still considered active duty military status in an “excess leave” situation, she would be violating a military regulation that states active duty military can’t be engaged in partisan politics. If the regulation isn’t waived, then Manning might be considered in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

While Manning was discharged from the Army in September 2017, Manning’s appeal is still pending in military court. And because of this, Manning might be considered in “excess leave” from the military. American Military News has reached out to the U.S. Army to clarify Manning’s status with the military at this time.

That regulation is in place for good reason, Capio pointed out – “We don’t want the military to be a politicized entity. Any number of problems can come up with a military force that’s political.”

Manning filed to run for U.S. Senate in Maryland earlier this year, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings dated Jan. 11. Manning filed to run as a Democrat.

At this point, given Manning’s status and pending appeal of the convictions against her in military court, it could fall upon Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to ultimately make a decision and send a message as to what happens next, Capio explained.

Manning could withdraw the appeal, which would mean her active duty status would change and Manning would be discharged.

Or, the appeal could be completed, and the court system would have satisfied the appellate review.

Alternatively, Manning could withdraw her candidacy – which seems unlikely, given her recent Twitter feed.

Then there’s Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Mattis could do a number of things – he could waive the regulation that prohibits active duty military from running for political office, which is unlikely, given the regulation is there for good reason, Capio stressed, adding that Mattis is the only person who could waive the regulation.

Or, Mattis could refer the case to go to an Article 32 investigator, which is the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation. Then the investigating officer would decide if Manning has violated the military regulation and if the case should go to trial.

There’s also the option to bypass that and court-martial Manning, Capio said.

“This is not a trivial regulation,” he pointed out. “If Manning gets away with [running for office], others are going to consider it, as well. The Defense Secretary has a decision to make.”

No matter the outcome, what comes down to ultimately Mattis’ decision is going to send a message either way.

“If he waves the regulation, he’s sending a message to the military that it doesn’t matter. If you waive it for one person, how do you not waive it for another,” Capio said.

Right now, the Judge Advocate General of the Army is probably working to make a recommendation to the Army Chief of Staff, who would in turn make a recommendation to Mattis.

As for Manning, the move to run for Senate was obviously intentional, Capio said, and it’s like “sticking a finger in the eye of the establishment.”

The age requirement to run for U.S. Senate is 30 years old. Manning would challenge Democrat Ben Cardin, whose seat is up for re-election in November; Cardin has served two terms in the U.S. Senate representing Maryland.

Manning leaked more than 700,000 government documents to WikiLeaks because she believed she had a responsibility to the public, she has said. Manning did not think releasing nearly three-quarters of a million documents would threaten national security.

Manning was released from prison early after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence – the longest prison term given to an American leaker. Obama commuted Manning’s sentence just days before he left office.

Manning, who entered an all-male military prison as “Bradley,” announced he was transgender immediately after his sentencing in 2013.

When the military denied Manning’s request for hormones, Manning tried to commit suicide twice. Manning will remain an unpaid active duty soldier who is eligible for health care and other benefits while the appeal takes place.