WASHINGTON — President Trump pardoned a Navy sailor Friday for his crime of mishandling classified information — a case Trump has compared to election rival Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.
Kristian Saucier is a former Navy submariner convicted in a federal court in Connecticut for taking pictures of a nuclear propulsion system and keeping them on his phone. He was sentenced to a year in prison in 2016, during the height of the presidential campaign.
Trump took notice of the case, citing Saucier as evidence that Clinton, a former secretary of State, should be jailed for mishandling classified information on a home email server set up to circumvent public records laws.
But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made no mention of that connection as she announced the pardon Friday.
“Mr. Saucier was 22 years old at the time of his offenses and has served out his 12-month sentence. He has been recognized by his fellow service members for his dedication, skill and patriotic spirit,” she said.
“While serving, he regularly mentored younger sailors and served as an instructor for new recruits. The sentencing judge found that Mr. Saucier’s offense stands in contrast to his commendable military service,” she said. “The president is appreciative of Mr. Saucier’s service to the country.”
Trump praised Saucier in a Saturday tweet, adding “Now you can go out and have the life you deserve!
“What President Trump did today was the right answer,” said Greg Rinckey, one of Saucier’s attorneys.
“They made him out to be some kind of spy or something,” he said. “He lost his Navy career. He lost his security clearance. He was forced into bankruptcy. It was devastating to him and his family.”
The sentencing judge did not address Saucier’s argument that he was being treated differently than Clinton, but did give him a 12-month sentence on the more lenient side of the sentencing recommendations. “I’d like to think the judge took it into consideration, even though he said he didn’t,” Rinckey said.
The Clinton comparison clearly was on Trump’s mind. As recently as January — even as the pardon case made its way to his desk — Trump cited the case again in a tweet.
“Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents,” Trump said. “Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others.”
The Clinton comparison came up in the sentencing phase of Saucier’s trial.
His lawyers argued that the six photos that Saucier took and retained on his phone were “far less than Clinton’s 110 emails” that were classified — and that the crime Saucier was convicted of did not require the government to prove his intent.
“Wherefore, it will be unjust and unfair for Mr. Saucier to receive any sentence other than probation for a crime those more powerful than him will likely avoid,” attorney Derrick Hogan argued.
But government lawyers argued that Saucier was “grasping at highly imaginative and speculative straws” in comparing his case to Clinton. That argument, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacabed Rodriguez-Coss, was “based upon virtually no understanding and knowledge of the facts involved, the information at issue, not to mention any issues of intent and knowledge.”
Saucier was a machinist first class whose security clearance allowed him access to sensitive components of the U.S.S. Alexandria, a nuclear-powered attack submarine. Prosecutors said he took six sensitive pictures with his phone in 2012, and then when confronted about it went home and destroyed the evidence.
The Navy declined to prosecute the case, but the U.S. attorney in Connecticut took up the case in civilian court.
The case was Trump’s second pardon. Last August, he pardoned former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then awaiting sentencing for contempt of court for defying a federal court order on his treatment of Hispanics.