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News Wrap: Obama commutes prison sentence for Chelsea Manning

In our news wrap Tuesday, President Obama commuted the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who is serving 35 years for passing classified files to WikiLeaks. Also, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the Obama administration of trying to sabotage President-elect Donald Trump.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    President-elect Donald Trump faces a growing Democratic boycott this evening, with his inauguration ceremony just three days away.

    Congressman John Lewis and nearly 50 House Democrats say they will not attend. Lewis had said it would be the first inauguration he's missed in 30 years. His office corrected that today, but Mr. Trump tweeted that the congressman's statement is — quote — "Wrong or lie. He boycotted Bush 43 also because he thought it would be hypocritical to attend."

    Trump followed up later on FOX News.

  • PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

    I think he just grandstanded, John Lewis, and then he got caught in a very bad lie. So, let's see what happens. As far as other people not going, that's OK, because we need seats so badly. I hope they will give me their tickets.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mr. Trump flew to Washington tonight for a dinner honoring Tom Barrack, a longtime friend who heads the Inauguration Committee.

    Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the Obama administration of trying to sabotage the president-elect. Putin dismissed reports that the Kremlin has compromising information on Mr. Trump, including using prostitutes in Moscow during a Miss Universe pageant.

  • PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter):

    I do not know Mr. Trump. I have never met him. I do not know what he will do on the international scene. So I have no grounds for attacking him, criticizing him for something or protecting him in any way. We won't even appeal to the Nobel Prize Committee if he is awarded with a Nobel Prize.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The White House rejected Putin's criticism, and said — quote — "There is a pretty stark divide here."

    President Obama today commuted the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning for passing classified military and diplomatic files to WikiLeaks. The former U.S. Army intelligence analyst is serving a sentence of 35 years. She is one of 209 inmates who received commutations today. Another 64 received pardons.

    Charlie Savage is covering the story for The New York Times.

    Charlie Savage, remind us what Chelsea Manning was originally charged with.

  • CHARLIE SAVAGE, The New York Times:

    Hi. Yes, thanks for having me on.

    So, when Chelsea Manning was arrested in 2010 and charged with passing documents to WikiLeaks, she was charged with numerous accounts of violating the Espionage Act and also was charged with aiding the enemy, which is essentially the military justice system's version of treason.

    She was convicted of the Espionage Act charges, most of them, but was acquitted of aiding the enemy. And she was sentenced to 35 years in prison, which is dramatically longer than any other prison sentence ever carried out in the American justice system for a leak case.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And do we know why the president decided to commute her sentence?

  • CHARLIE SAVAGE:

    So, there was a briefing call with senior White House officials after the commutations and pardons were announced.

    And the senior White House official — we were not allowed to name them under the ground rules — described a little bit of the president's thinking about this. He said, well, she admitted that what she had done was wrong and apologized for it, and she expressed remorse and has now been serving nearly seven years in prison for it.

    And most people who have been convicted in leak cases — there has been about a dozen, most of them in the last eight years — have been convicted — have been sentenced to one, two, or three years, not 35.

    And so part of this was also the equity of making this sentence more in the range of what other people accused of similar conduct have received.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, the question is, what signal does this send? Tonight, the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has issued a statement saying — quote — "This is just outrageous." He says: "Chelsea Manning's treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation's most sensitive secrets." And he says, "The president now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won't be held accountable for their crimes."

  • CHARLIE SAVAGE:

    That's one of many statements like that coming out of Republicans on the Hill. We haven't heard yet from president-elect Trump on this, but that statement is reflected by what other people like Senator McCain and others have said.

    I would say, as a point of just clarification, none of the documents that Chelsea Manning leaked were classified above the merely classified level. That is to say, none of them were top-secret. That was another thing that the White House discussed today in comparing her to Edward Snowden, who President Obama declined to pardon.

    So, to say they're some of the most sensitive secrets is an exaggeration. And also military prosecutors at her court-martial didn't accuse her or present any evidence that anyone was actually killed as a result of her leaks.

    On the other hand, the government did scramble afterward to move some people out of potential harm's way who were named in some of the documents as having helped American diplomats or troops in very dangerous countries, lest they come to harm. So the fact that no one was killed didn't mean that it wasn't indeed putting some people at risk.

    And she has apologized for having done that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Charlie Savage with The New York Times, thank you very much.

  • CHARLIE SAVAGE:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Also tonight, new numbers are out on the consequences of repealing Obamacare. The Congressional Budget Office assessed a 2016 bill that is the starting point for this year's effort. It found some 18 million Americans would lose coverage within a year of repeal, if there is no replacement.

    The number would climb to 32 million by 2026, again, assuming nothing replaces it. Republicans insisted today that they will have a replacement.

    The nominee to be secretary of the U.S. Interior Department says it's — quote — "indisputable" that climate change is happening, and that humans are a big cause. Montana Representative Ryan Zinke spoke today at his Senate confirmation hearing.

    Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders pressed him on president-elect Trump's assertion that climate change is a hoax.

  • REP. RYAN ZINKE, R-Mont.:

    I don't believe it's a hoax. I believe we should…

  • SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-Vt.:

    You do not believe it's a hoax?

  • REP. RYAN ZINKE:

    No. I believe we should be prudent to be prudent. That means, I don't know definitively.

  • SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

    If climate change is already causing devastating problems, should we allow fossil fuel to be drilled on public lands?

  • REP. RYAN ZINKE:

    Again, we need an economy and jobs, too.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Zinke also said he is open to drilling more on public lands, and that he will review President Obama's limits on drilling in Alaska.

    In Turkey, authorities confirmed they have arrested an Uzbek national, and said he confessed to killing 39 people at an Istanbul club early on New Year's Day. The alleged gunman was captured late Monday at this apartment in Istanbul's suburbs. The city's governor said fingerprints there matched prints from the crime scene.

    The search for a Malaysian Airlines plane has ended after three years, $160 million and no answers. Ships with high-tech gear covered, in all, nearly 50,000 square miles in the Indian Ocean west of Australia. Today, despite complaints from family members, Malaysia, Australia and China shut down the official hunt for Flight 370 and all 239 people it carried.

    There has been a new migrant disaster in the Mediterranean. The International Organization for Migration reports that almost 180 people apparently drowned when a boat capsized off Libya over the weekend. That is based on interviews with a handful of survivors.

    British Prime Minister Theresa May declared today that her government wants a clean break from the European Union. May laid out her thinking, as Britain gets ready to negotiate terms for leaving the E.U. She confirmed it means an end to Britain's role in Europe's single market and to travel without passports, but she also issued a warning.

  • THERESA MAY, Prime Minister, United Kingdom:

    I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path. That would be an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe, and it wouldn't be the act of a friend. Britain wouldn't, indeed, we could not accept such an approach.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    May also promised that Parliament will be able to vote on the final deal, likely in 2019.

    Back in this country, big automakers are announcing plans for expansions, under pressure from president-elect Trump. Hyundai says that it will boost its investment in U.S. plants by 50 percent over the next four years. And General Motors will spend an additional $1 billion on its U.S. factories this year.

    And on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 59 points to close at 19826. The Nasdaq fell 35, and the S&P 500 slipped six.

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