ABC News' "Nightline" co-anchor Juju Chang sits down with Chelsea Manning for the first exclusive television interview since Manning's prison release.
Heidi Gutman—ABC via Getty Images
By Melissa Chan
September 15, 2017

A Harvard graduate school dean on Friday withdrew a designation extended to Chelsea Manning, saying the offer was a “mistake,” after a backlash from several people, including the head of the CIA.

Manning, an Army soldier who was convicted of espionage after leaking classified government documents, was released from prison in May after then-President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in January. Manning was set to serve as a “visiting fellow” at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government this fall before the school revoked the “perceived honor.”

The reversal came less than a day after CIA Director Mike Pompeo canceled a scheduled appearance at Harvard over what he called the school’s “shameful” invitation to Manning.

Here’s what to know about Chelsea Manning and Harvard:

What led Harvard to rescind its offer to Chelsea Manning?

The Harvard Kennedy School on Wednesday announced that Manning would be one of about 10 visiting fellows this fall. The title, which the school said it gives to people who have “significantly influenced events in the world,” meant Manning could meet students and field questions from them during a forum on campus. While some visiting fellows are asked to stay for longer than a semester, Manning was expected to only spend one day at the Kennedy School, according to the institution.

The Kennedy School says it “did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds” with its designation. Still, Manning’s selection offended some people, including Pompeo, a Harvard alumnus.

“Harvard’s actions implicitly tell its students that you too can be a fellow at Harvard and a felon under United States law,” Pompeo wrote in a letter to Harvard on Thursday, according to the Washington Post. “I believe it is shameful for Harvard to place its stamp of approval upon her treasonous actions.”

That same day, former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell also resigned as a senior fellow at the Kennedy School in protest of Manning’s designation.

What was Harvard’s reason for doing so?

In a nearly 700-word statement, Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf said it was an error on his part to have ever considered Manning to be a visiting fellow. “I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility,” he said. “I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations.”

Elmendorf said he misjudged how much those at the Kennedy School could learn from her visit. “In particular, I think we should weigh, for each potential visitor, what members of the Kennedy School community could learn from that person’s visit against the extent to which that person’s conduct fulfills the values of public service to which we aspire,” he said. “In retrospect, though, I think my assessment of that balance for Chelsea Manning was wrong.”

Elmendorf said Manning is still allowed to spend a day at the school and speak in a planned forum, but she is no longer considered a “visiting fellow.” “I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation,” he said.

How has Chelsea Manning responded?

In a tweet early Friday, Manning, who is transgender, said she was “honored” to be the first “disinvited trans woman visiting Harvard fellow.” Manning said Harvard bowed to pressure from the CIA. “The CIA determines what is and is not taught at Harvard,” she said in a separate tweet. She also slammed the school for implying other new visiting fellows, like President Donald Trump’s former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, were more valuable than her since their designations were unaffected. It’s unclear if she will still attend the school’s forum.

What information did Chelsea Manning leak?

Manning was an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army when she sent more than 700,000 confidential military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks while serving in Iraq in 2010, according to the Associated Press. The documents shed light on aspects of America’s involvement with Iraq, particularly in regards to the country’s elections, she explained in a New York Times op-ed in 2014. Manning was convicted and received a 35-year prison sentence in 2013 for Espionage Act violations and other offenses related to the massive leak, according to the AP.

Why did President Obama commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence?

During his last news conference on Jan. 18, after announcing the commutation, President Barack Obama said he believed Manning had served enough time in prison and that he felt her prison sentence was “disproportionate” to the sentences other whistleblowers have received.

“I feel very comfortable that justice has still been served,” he said. “It has been my view that given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received, and that she had served a significant amount of time, that it made sense to commute and not pardon her sentence.”

Manning served seven years behind bars before being released in May thanks to Obama’s commutation. More than 100,000 people had called for the presidential commutation in a White House online petition.

“Let’s be clear Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence,” Obama said.

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