Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters
Chelsea Manning can't see the FBI's files about her, a federal judge in Washington, DC, ruled on Wednesday.
Manning went to court after the government denied her request for records about the investigation into her role in allegedly leaking a large cache of classified and confidential documents to WikiLeaks. The FBI and US Department of Justice had argued that disclosing the records Manning wanted would interfere with a pending investigation into WikiLeaks. The judge found that the government “adequately justified” its request to keep the records secret.
Manning, a former US Army private, was convicted in a court-martial in 2013 and is serving a 35-year prison sentence. According to an NBC News report on Wednesday, she is on a short list for consideration to receive a commuted sentence from President Obama.
In 2014, Manning filed a public records request asking for documents about any investigation of her activities by the FBI or the US attorney's office in the Eastern District of Virginia, and any records about alleged civilian co-conspirators. The FBI denied the request, saying that disclosing the documents could interfere with pending law enforcement activities related to the WikiLeaks investigation.
Manning filed a lawsuit seeking to force the release of the documents in October 2015. She argued that disclosing the records couldn't interfere with a pending case because she was already convicted in a court-martial, and double jeopardy rules barred a separate criminal case against her in a US court.
The Justice Department in court papers called Manning's request, filed under the federal Freedom of Information Act, “a quintessential example of an improper attempt to use FOIA to force the government to open its investigative files to public inspection.” The information that Manning wanted was collected as part of a broader, ongoing investigation into WikiLeaks, the government said, and should be kept secret.
The government didn't provide many details about the contents of the documents at issue, but did say that they included confidential source statements — releasing that information could put a source at risk, the government said — communications between the FBI and other agencies, and other evidence.
The Justice Department also said it wasn't possible to segregate out information that was solely about Manning in a way that wouldn't jeopardize the pending investigation.
Judge Amit Mehta of the US District Court for the District of Columbia wrote on Wednesday that the government established that the records related to a pending investigation that went beyond the particulars of Manning's case, and that releasing the documents she wanted would interfere with that.
Mehta also denied Manning's request to review the documents himself. He wrote that there was legal precedent that a judge should avoid doing that type of review unless it was unavoidable or there was evidence of bad faith by an agency in responding to a public records request. “Neither of those
conditions is present here,” the judge wrote.
A lawyer for Manning was not immediately reached for comment on Wednesday evening. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.