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Chelsea Manning Believes Subpoena From WikiLeaks Grand Jury May Be ‘Perjury Trap,’ According To Unsealed Documents

Documents related to Chelsea Manning’s effort to quash a federal grand jury subpoena show her attorneys are concerned the grand jury investigation against WikiLeaks may be trying to draw her into a “perjury trap.”

Manning is in jail at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia, which is also where the grand jury is empaneled. She was charged with contempt on March 8 for refusing to answer questions before the grand jury.

The government offered her some form of immunity for her testimony, and the United States military has offered a “parallel” form of immunity to assuage concerns that her testimony would open her up to further military prosecution.

Government prosecutors seem interested in a lengthy statement Manning offered during her military court-martial for Espionage Act-related offenses, where she outlined her role in disclosing over a half million documents. She meticulously described each set of information, why she was drawn to releasing the documents to the public, and how she downloaded, prepared, and electronically transferred the documents to WikiLeaks.

Moira Meltzer-Cohen, an attorney for Manning, suggested during a hearing on March 5 [PDF], if the government intended to question her about her statement, “She’s sort of faced with the choice of reiterating her previous answers, which the government appears not to accept, or being untruthful, which she refuses to do.”

“Since her prior testimony made clear that she acted alone and since we have been advised that she is herself not a target in this investigation, it would appear that the government may harbor an interest in undermining her previous testimony, since it doesn’t inculpate anyone else who might be a target,” Meltzer-Cohen added.

The government has filed sealed charges against WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange. Presumably, prosecutors would like Manning to say something that could be used against Assange or any other WikiLeaks staffers who may have worked on the publication of her disclosures.

Manning’s attorneys suggested during this hearing that prosecutors have led Manning to believe she may have made statements during her court-martial that were “incorrect or in some way at variance with her prior statements.” She also recognizes the “public resentment” toward her “that has been expressed by other actors in the government.”

Meltzer-Cohen proposed the government “make a show of good faith” and “disclose whatever prior statements they seem to be relying on to justify the subpoena.” This would be whatever prosecutors have from Manning that they believe contradicts her statement at the court-martial.

Judge Claude Hilton rejected Manning’s effort to quash the subpoena at this hearing, agreeing with the government that raising First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendment Rights was “premature.”

“The nature of Manning’s claims requires that she hear the questions before determining whether [the subpoena] violates her rights,” the government maintained in their reply to her motion [PDF].

Prosecutors additionally asserted she had to appear before the grand jury before she could challenge any questions on First Amendment grounds. “The time for her to raise a First Amendment defense is only in response to a particular question.”

Meltzer-Cohen argued at the hearing that the government was interested in testimony that would not “implicate any crimes.”

“That would be information to which the grand jury is not entitled because it would be an obvious violation of her First Amendment expressive and associational rights,” she insisted.

Manning alleged the government has engaged in “intrusive surveillance” against her “including surveillance vans parked outside her apartment, federal agents following her, and strangers attempting to goad her into an absurdly contrived conversation about selling dual-use technologies to foreign actors.”

Her attorneys would like the government to canvass agencies and determine whether any agencies have engaged in electronic surveillance against Manning, but the government said Manning has no concrete proof that any of the alleged surveillance is connected to the grand jury subpoena so she has no grounds to make a Fourth Amendment claim.

Manning’s motion to quash [PDF] adamantly stated that she possesses no information that was not already provided to the government.

“Since her release, she has gained no further personal knowledge of any relevant people or events,” the motion claimed.

The federal investigation has involved “information gathering, testimony both voluntary and compelled, and both overt and covert surveillance for many years. There is little doubt that the prosecutor and this grand jury have access to a great deal of both public and non-public information on these matters, including but far exceeding, Ms. Manning’s prior sworn testimony.”

Manning cannot “give the government or this grand jury information anywhere near the quality and quantity of that presented at her court martial in 2013.”

Citing the general history of grand jury abuses by the U.S. government, Manning’s attorneys concluded, “Manning has reason to believe that she will be subject to questions intended to elicit information not properly within the scope of the grand jury.”

Those questions may focus on activities that are protected by the First Amendment, such as newsgathering and “other forms of protected speech and associations.”

“Indeed, the mere issuance of the subpoena is already serving to chill her exercise of constitutional rights.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."