criminal justice Kevin Gosztola Whistleblowers

Justice Department: NSA Whistleblower Reality Winner Must Wait to Apply for Pardon

NSA whistleblower Reality Winner (Screen shot from CBS’ “60 Minutes”)

By Kevin Gosztola / The Dissenter

The United States Justice Department will not grant a waiver to NSA whistleblower Reality Winner so she can apply for a pardon.

All individuals formerly incarcerated in federal prisons are typically required to wait five years after their last day of confinement before their pardon application may be considered, unless there are “exceptional circumstances.”

Winner was prosecuted by the Justice Department under President Donald Trump. She pled guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act when she disclosed an NSA report to The Intercept. She believed the report contained evidence of Russian hackers targeting US voter registration systems during the 2016 election.

On June 2, 2021, Winner was released from Federal Medical Center Carswell in Texas and placed under house arrest until November 23. She is living under restrictive probation until November 23, 2024, and has a job where she works a few days a week.

Winner’s attorney Alison Grinter sent a letter to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney on June 29 and singled out Trump’s actions.

“We are asking that the waiting period be waived on this application for pardon because as the former President has been shown to have had no respect for our democratic institutions and norms and has shown a willingness to subvert, manipulate, and hide the truth, now is the right time to forgive those who brought us the truth when we needed to know it,” Grinter argued.

Grinter further maintained that it was necessary to stand up to “political retaliation and scapegoat scare tactics” and pardoning Winner would help bring about healing and reconciliation. She also contended, as the US government is focused on fighting Russia in Ukraine, it is wrong for the Justice Department to continue to punish Winner.

On August 3, four days after National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, the Office of the Pardon Attorney replied, “We have concluded that it would not be appropriate to grant a waiver of the waiting period in her case to permit her to apply for a pardon at this time.”

The response mostly quoted the guideline that the Justice Department often follows, but it also was insulting to Winner.

“While we are sympathetic to her desire for clemency, we do not believe that her circumstances in this regard are so unusual as to justify a waiver of the waiting period,” the response stated. “Waivers are infrequently granted and then only for particularly compelling reasons. It may ultimately be to your client’s benefit to wait the full five years to demonstrate that she has become fully rehabilitated and is a contributing member of society.”

The idea that someone could complete a prison sentence, go through house arrest, obtain employment, and still not be considered “fully rehabilitated” and a “contributing member of society” is atrocious. However, that idea is woven into the fabric of the mass incarceration system.

Winner will never again be hired by a company or government agency that grants her access to classified information, which she could disclose to the news media. The chance of repeating her offense is zero. Add that to the absurd notion that she is not already “fully rehabilitated.”

The “compelling reason” for granting a waiver is that Winner had a whistleblowing motive when she made her disclosure, and there is nothing for the Justice Department to “rehabilitate.” It was abusive for prosecutors to sentence Winner to five years and three months in prison for giving one classified document to a media organization (that was not even truly sensitive material).

CBS’ long-running news program “60 Minutes” re-aired their December 2021 segment featuring Winner on July 24. She trended on Twitter, and it brought renewed attention to her case. However, the widespread public support did not convince the Justice Department to act compassionately and waive the wait period.

Winner described life under probation during an interview for the “This Is Reality” podcast. She is drug tested every month. She has a 10pm curfew, which lasts until 6 am. She must be at her parents’ home each night. They want her to ask permission before doing interviews for the news media.

Until November 2024, Winner is not allowed to travel anywhere. That presumably includes trips that might help her become a “contributing member of society,” as the Justice Department would say.

“I cannot leave the Southern District of Texas, which extends from just south of Houston along the coast,” Winner added.

Winner’s boss had to sign a letter indicating she was “absolutely needed” so she could go to work at 5am—during her curfew.

“Other than the fact that I can now get a job in the local community,” Winner said, “I’m still on home confinement.”

Winner is outspoken about the incarceration system in the United States that still controls her life.

“I’m a mass incarceration abolitionist. So I think that the prison industrial complex needs to be completely abolished. I don’t think that means an America without prisons entirely, but it does mean that we need to decrease our prison population by at least 75 percent. And this is at the federal, state, and county levels.”

Kevin Gosztola
Kevin Gosztola

Managing editor of Shadowproof, host of the “Dissenter Weekly,” co-host of the podcast “Unauthorized Disclosure,” and member of Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)


  1. OK, she was prosecuted by Trump’s Justice Dept for releasing an NSA report “(s)he believed … contained evidence of Russian hackers targeting US voter registration systems during the 2016 election.” That is understandable – but given that such “evidence” would have bolstered the whole DP’s “Russiagate” routine – wouldn’t you think that a D admin,’s Justice Dept. would be more than willing to grant her clemency – or is it their fear that in doing so they would be accused of “partisanship” – by the time she is allowed to seek clemency – Trump might be back in power and she can kiss her clemency good bye

    The problem, it seems to me, for just about any whistleblower, is that the value of information given to the public is not judged on whether or not it IS of value to the public, but whether it is of value to the ruling party – Assange seems to have run afoul of both “ruling parties” (another good reason for a 3rd party ) It would seem that if you want to be a whistleblower of US malfeasance, you best bet is to flee to – Russia. Ironic, ain’t it … Wonder how Snowden is doing …

  2. Gosztola used to be what we call investigative journalist.

    May be he still is but it doesn’t show in this piece that blatantly ignored much more interesting background of this story. And even more interesting is absence of reference and/or comparison of R. Winner with Banning and Assange cases to name few and striking contrast of how their were handled.

    Instead Gosztola turned a discredited Russiagate zealot betrayed and outed by The Intercept billionaire owner and then scapegoated by FBI agents as a part of their anti Trump political agenda into some sort of reborn righteous crusader for justice in rotten Federal judicial system.

    The Intercept created on a wave of successes of Wikileaks and founded on Snowden limited disclosures turned out to be a political cover operation to oust whistleblowers and/or to manipulate content of their disclosures to public for commercial and political ends. RW was one of their victims.

    It is what The intercept is known for. Remember Greenwald was pushed out of The Intercept to suppress his accurate fact based investigative report about Hunter Biden corruption in Ukraine.

    Withholding Greenwald article by TI editorial board was done for sole purpose of manipulating US electorate and election results.

    Similarly NSA leaks from Snowden were used not to out criminals of NSA and CIA who violated US laws for decades or to enable tens of thousands of victims to seek justice but instead to provide platform and venue allowing all the crimes to be legalized and perpetrators immunized from criminal liability. Almost a decade from Snowden disclosures all leaked criminal activities of NSA listed by Snowden are now legalized.

    The RW leak included supposedly Trump damning intelligence report that was pure fabrication by rogue FBI agents’ concocted political operation as it was later proved in numerous Russiagate investigations.

    She, who together with millions of Americans personally detested Trump, was wittingly or not used as a pawn to proliferate falsehoods in a political Russiagame.

    In her apparent hate and zealotry to “get Trump” she inadvertently provided self incriminating evidence of her identity to TI whistleblower site that nearly instantly sold her to FBI with which they cooperated in outing whistleblowers, leakers and hackers.

    In truth, RW story is a story about how ambition, political naïveté and blatant stupidity almost killed a cat.

    This is not to say that her complains about Federal judicial system are without merit.

    They are true however they do not cover more than just a fraction of what wrong with blackmailing, extortionist, racketeering practice of Feds indicting baloney sandwich cases threatening people with 100 year sentences without parole or forcing intimidated mostly innocent of most phony charges defendants into humiliating plea bargaining dictates effectively denying constitutional right to trial for 98% of federal defendants as Chris Hedges and others repeatedly reported.

    All that “federal justice” is often based on blatant lies, provocations, entrapment, and fabrications coming from US political police called FBI created over a century ago by Edgar Hoover to break up IWW and Socialist Party of Eugene Debs.

    Winner, a tragicomical character, whose game apparently exceeded her intellectual capacity to recognize brutal political reality is being subjected to injustice she herself was used to deny to others.

    1. Hello, Kalen

      I read the comments at ScheerPost, and since you write, “Gosztola used to be what we call investigative journalist,” I’ll respond:

      The news story is about NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, who was prosecuted under the US Espionage Act, being denied the ability to apply for a pardon after the Justice Department refused to waive the five-year waiting period.

      I’ve covered how The Intercept handled her disclosure, but that’s irrelevant to whether you believe that Reality deserves a pardon. My view is yes, she does deserve to have her life made whole again just like everyone targeted with the Espionage Act. Because what she disclosed was not sensitive information at all, and I’m against the criminalization of news media sources.

      I report on all Espionage Act prosecutions, and one thing I would like you to know is that I do not play this game of pitting leakers or whistleblowers against one another. Edward Snowden supports Reality Winner. Before Julian Assange was hauled out of the Ecuador embassy in London and jailed in Belmarsh, he supported Reality. And Reality actually had text messages where she expressed support for Snowden and WikiLeaks used against her to keep her in pretrial detention before she pled guilty. All whistleblowers deserve our solidarity.

      Contrary to your misinformed argument, Reality was never used by the Russiagate crowd to advance their arguments against President Donald Trump and the rest of his administration. What she did and what she endured during her prosecution went virtually ignored until about 1-2 years ago when Trump’s presidency was ending.

      MSNBC did not have her mother on their network until December 2020, even though every show from Maddow on down was desperate for Trump-Russia content. But they could not do a straight-up segment supporting her. They had Malcolm Nance, who is a massive fraud, participate in the segment. Nance scolded Reality, and Nance and Joy Reid used Reality as an example to attack Snowden.

      Although you may be following my past investigative journalism on Assange, clearly you have missed a larger aspect of my coverage of the war on whistleblowers. I regularly highlight how those accused of of violating the Espionage Act take plea deals because they could never have a fair trial, or they must plead guilty to ensure they do not go to prison for a lengthy amount of time. That happened in Reality’s case. It happened to FBI whistleblower Terry Albury and drone whistleblower Daniel Hale. It is of the utmost concern to Snowden and why he remains in Russia. And this is the future that lies ahead for Assange if and when he is put on trial in the United States.

      But you contend, “Gosztola turned a discredited Russiagate zealot betrayed and outed by The Intercept billionaire owner and then scapegoated by FBI agents as a part of their anti-Trump political agenda into some sort of reborn righteous crusader for justice in rotten federal judicial system.”

      What I did was engage in consistent reporting like I have done for more than ten years, and it made you feel insecure because you believe that some targets under the Espionage Act deserve less support if establishment liberals begin to speak up for them. I get it. But these national security state-loving Democrats were not supporters of her when she was first raided and interrogated by the FBI. She had very little support. Most laughed at her name and acted like she was white trash, especially because FBI agents found a pink AR-15 in her Augusta home.

      I won’t stop supporting any person labeled an enemy of the state simply because they suddenly garner support from obnoxious and insufferable liberals who wake up to the injustice that person has endured.

      I won’t only write about the cases that help me burnish my credentials as a journalist who covers more radical examples of truth-tellers, who pose a deeper threat to the US empire. I’ll cover the spectrum of cases and pay attention to what each political case reveals.

      Finally, I believe what you write about Winner is angry and spite-filled puke that misses the fact that Reality was not responsible for the Democrats manipulating Russiagate claims for the past 5+ years to dodge any accountability for their actions.

      Thanks to all the commenters for reading my republished work here at ScheerPost.

      1. Hello Kevin,
        Thanks for your comment however I still am not convinced that meritorious points raised in my comment which you judged as tangential or irrelevant and points you raised in your comment would not benefit your article as I understand focused on injustice of federal judicial system in US in the case of RW.

        Using a case of specific person to illustrate certain legal and political realities as I see it requires adequate background of this person if it suppose to be investigative piece of journalism. Longer article with references to your and others work on the subject would have, in my humble opinion, been beneficial to reader.

        Your Quote.

        “ Finally, I believe what you write about Winner is angry and spite-filled puke that misses the fact that Reality was not responsible for the Democrats manipulating Russiagate claims for the past 5+ years to dodge any accountability for their actions.”

        It is nearly impossible to understand why you could consider my comment as spiteful as I clearly stated that I believe that RW was a manipulated victim of the system used to give false credibility as whistleblower sourced to intelligence community deliberate politically motivated disinformation campaign about alleged Russian hacking of electoral system that allegedly might have resulted in false election tally and consequently installation of illegitimate president. I see nothing malicious here.

        Such opinion (not my President campaign) was widespread among millions Democrats who took to the streets and MSM in 2016 and persisted until Trump (who I described already in 2015 as flaccid clown of oligarchy) was finally out of office.

        Unless Reality was ardent Trump supporter and thought of Russiagate as Dems’ concocted hoax I do not see any reasons to apologize for my opinion that assumed otherwise.

        RW lack of support from Dems propagandists in her struggle does not enhance Winner’s credibility but reflects scapegoating of RW by Russiagate crowd for failing to succeed in the disinformation operation simply by being caught.

        If this assessment seems too conspiratorial just few weeks ago US DoS confirmed US intelligence disinformation campaign about Ukrainian war via proliferating lies supposedly coming from leaks from US intelligence community which in fact acted as a part of psychological warfare against Russians and.. to disinform US population as well. I submit that RW was a pawn in similar operation.

        As I recognize no monopoly on truth and no infallibility of authority in my “book” there are no holy cows, no binary worlds of good and evil as for me everything is in shades of gray.

        But such attitude has costs. Despite my early and strong support for Snowden, Assange, Banning and many others as systemic victims of brutal US imperial regime covering up its crimes I raised some inconvenient questions about their cases which sometimes brought upon me righteous indignation and recently strange wokeish cultural free speech restraining attitudes from their genuine supporters suggesting that certain criticism is not.. nice and hence must be suppressed.

        I had quite long debate with Glenn Greenwald along those lines just after Snowden defection to HK and Russia that spurred similar attitudes (not from Glenn who addressed merits of my arguments not emotions of solidarity with persecuted I shared myself).

        I sense similar attitude in your comment.

    2. Winner.
      A thousandfold more significant human being than you’ll ever be.
      Just keep tapping out your garbage.
      You ain’t got what it takes to be a whistleblower.

  3. So, the Department of InJustice has a rule that says that a person can not apply for a pardon until so late in the game that the pardon becomes relatively useless and the person will probably have moved on?

    Yep, that makes sense. Democracy and Freedom say we have to have a pardon process to correct injustices, but the Franz Kafka Division of Rules has decided that you can not apply for a pardon. Makes perfect sense. I’d call it Catch-22, but that was very old and by now I’m sure they’d be up to Catch 3,039,406,034,022.

    Of course, one thing we know for a fact is that a President does not have to follow this process, as there have been recent pardons granted that did not wait until the Dept of InJustice said they could be pardoned. Several of Trump’s cronies come to mind. But, if that was discussed, then perhaps the Democrats might realize just how horrible this President actually is.

  4. The Biden Regime’s approval of the Trump Regime’s persecution of Ms. Winner is yet another of the innumerable atrocities that prove the three definitive aspects of our encroaching doom: firstly, that the “Democratic” (sic) Party is nothing more than the Republican Party’s Fifth Column; secondly, that the so-called “deep state” — the permanent bureaucracy — is already thoroughly nazified; lastly, that the United States is indeed the de facto Fourth Reich;

  5. winner could have sought asylum in a nation that cherishes freedom and justice; if Snowden leaves Russia he will be assassinated like emperor gates wishes to do to Assange

  6. This girl was framed and “The Intercept” participated in the frame-up by publishing a picture of the documents – which were encoded. The whole thing was an MSA disinformation psy-op. The controlled lamestream media ran with it. Robert Mueller had a reputation as a Cleaner. He tied and failed to make a case in court alleging Russia n election interference and got rebuked by the judge. Then he went before Congress – the dame body he lied under oath about Iraq’s WMD in 2003 – and did a great Ralph Kramden impersonation: “Homina, homina, homina.”

    1. Actually Reality Winner’s case had nothing to do with Robert Mueller’s investigation. But this is amusing. Please get the green chalkboard so I can watch you connect some more dots.

    2. “Homina, homina, homina.

      Completely agree, the Intercept was co-opted long ago. This is just another scene from Tropical Thunder. Where nonsense and controlled opposition rule.

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