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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/7/18

Trump Weaponizes Pardon Power: Scorched Earth Campaign Against Law

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When the target is Hillary Clinton, what's wrong with abuse of power?

In March, President Trump pardoned Kristian Saucier, convicted of breaching military security by taking and mishandling photos of the reactor room of the nuclear submarine he served on. In June, Kristian Saucier has decided to sue former president Barack Obama and former FBI director James Comey for violating his right to equal protection under the law. On its face it looks like a dark joke, but in the alternate reality it's news.

Here's the basic story as reported by assorted media:

Kevin Mark Saucier, now 31, is a native of Arlington, Vermont. He was born in 1986 and eventually enlisted in the Navy. From September 2007 to March 2012, Saucier was a machinist's mate on the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Alexandria. His job included working on the submarine's nuclear propulsion system, a classified area where cameras and personal electronic devices were banned. Saucier was trained to be aware of the security limitations of his job. Photography was always banned in engine rooms.

In 2009, for reasons that remain uncertain, Saucier took some number of cellphone photographs in the classified areas of his submarine. He did so on three separate occasions, each time taking two security-violating photographs (January 19 at 4 a.m., March 22 at 1:30 a.m., and July 15 at 12:47 p.m.). These photographs showed only equipment, not people. What, if anything, he did with the photographs before March 2012 remains uncertain. He maintains they were personal mementos. His former wife and his probation officer apparently said Saucier planned to share the photographs with "foreign agencies," but prosecutors did not bring that into the case. As the US Attorney in Connecticut put it:

"SAUCIER had a Secret clearance and knew that the photos depicted classified material and that he was not authorized to take them. He retained these photographs and failed to deliver them to any officer or employee of the U.S. entitled to receive it."

In March 2012, a supervisor at the Hampton, Connecticut, waste transfer station found what turned out to be Saucier's cellphone. In due course, the nuclear sub photos were discovered and reported to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and to the FBI. The FBI interviewed him, inquiring in particular about any of his other devices. Initially, Saucier denied taking the photographs. After his FBI interview, Saucier took a hammer to a camera, a memory card, and a laptop computer, hiding the parts in the woods near his grandfather's house in northern Vermont.

On May 28, 2015, Saucier was arrested and charged with unlawful retention of national defense information and obstruction of justice. On May 27 a year later, Saucier pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information.

Before sentencing, Saucier's attorneys compared Saucier's case to Hillary Clinton's much-publicized use of a private email system for State Department business, a years-long offense for which the FBI declined to recommend prosecution. Saucier's attorneys argued that his offense was far less of a breach than Clinton's and that Saucier should get a comparable punishment. By then the Saucier-less-guilty-than-Clinton meme had gone viral in the right-wing mediasphere, and Donald Trump was using it on the campaign trail.

On August 19, 2016, a federal judge sentenced Saucier to one year in prison, three years of supervised release with electronic monitoring, 100 hours of community service and fined him $100. The prosecution had asked for a six-year sentence. The maximum sentence could have been 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Trump in a stump speech said Saucier's picture-taking was "nothing by comparison to what she's done" (referring to Hillary Clinton). In Trump's view:

"They took the kid who wanted some pictures of the submarine. That's an old submarine; they've got plenty of pictures, if the enemy wants them, they've got plenty of them. He wanted to take a couple of pictures. They put him in jail for a year."

On October 4, 2016, in his debate with Senator Tim Kaine, vice presidential candidate Mike Pence brought the Saucier case obliquely into the conversation out of nowhere, in response to no question, as a way to attack Hillary Clinton. Two days later, Saucier's mother was on Fox News thanking Pence for raising the issue. On October 12, 2016, Saucier entered federal prison to start serving his one-year sentence.

After the election, Saucier's attorney, Ronald Daigle, met in Trump Tower with Michael Flynn, who encouraged Saucier to file a formal pardon request. Once President Trump was in office, Saucier appealed to him to commute his sentence and grant him a pardon. Despite early denials, Saucier kept appealing.

On September 6, 2017, Saucier was released from prison, having completed his one-year sentence. Saucier returned home to Vermont, re-joining his second wife and their daughter about to turn two. He said his cars had been repossessed and his home was in foreclosure. He expressed mixed feelings about Trump:

"I saw him, while I was in prison, talking about my case on the news and he was very vocal about how what happened to me was wrong. Obviously it was kind of an emotional rollercoaster hearing all that stuff and then nothing happening...

"I served my country for 11 years, I did two tours in the Middle East, and I would like to have my good name back, that's what's most important to me. Nothing can give me back the year I lost with my daughter and wife in prison, but a pardon would definitely restore my good name."

On January 2, 2018, without referring to any pardon request, the President once again used Saucier to bash Hillary Clinton in a tweet:

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Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)
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