Many Veterans OK with Possible Pardon of Sailor

The fast-attack submarine USS Alexandria surfaces. One of its former crew members is in prison for taking unauthorized photos. (Stocktrek Images)
The fast-attack submarine USS Alexandria surfaces. One of its former crew members is in prison for taking unauthorized photos. (Stocktrek Images)

The submarine community is expressing mixed reaction to the possibility of President Donald Trump pardoning a former Navy sailor currently serving prison time for taking photos inside a nuclear attack submarine.

Trump recently told Fox News' Sean Hannity that he's "looking at" the case of Kristian Saucier, who was convicted of one count of unauthorized retention of national defense information, a felony. A former Army attorney has filed petitions for a presidential pardon and clemency on Saucier's' behalf.

Saucier is more than three months into his yearlong prison sentence for taking photos of various technical components of the nuclear propulsion system inside the USS Alexandria, while he was a machinist's mate on the Los Angeles-class attack submarine.

A former Alexandria shipmate, Charles Gray, 36, who left the Navy in 2013 as a 2nd class petty officer, said he was glad Trump is looking into the case.

"It's kind of crazy it took this long," Gray said by phone from Indiana, where he now lives.

Gray said he felt a large amount of money was wasted by the federal government in going after Saucier, when other people, including two sailors on the Alexandria who got caught taking pictures aboard the submarine, received far less of a punishment. Instead, he said, the Navy should've handled Saucier's case.

At least once a week, Gray talks with Saucier's wife, Sadie, by phone to check in and see how he is doing.

"He's doing OK right now," Gray said of Saucier.

Rob Davis, 69, a retired senior chief who served on submarines, said he doesn't think the punishment fits the crime.

Speaking at the U.S. Submarine Veterans Groton Base on Friday afternoon, Davis, of Gales Ferry, emphasized several times that the case should've been handled "strictly" by the Navy.

He does think Saucier, who he said "knew better," should have been punished but said the yearlong prison sentence is too harsh.

As for whether Trump should pardon Saucier, Davis said "that's up to him," but added that people who've committed far more egregious acts have received presidential pardons.

Without knowing the extent of the photos, Davis said there are angles that Saucier could've taken the pictures from that wouldn't have compromised national security.

"Technology advances very quickly," he said, referring to the Alexandra being an older attack submarine.

Trump had told Hannity that if "China or Russia wanted information on that submarine, they've had it for many years. That I can tell you."

The Navy and the government have characterized Saucier's actions as far more serious than what Trump described.

Rear Adm. Charles Richard, former director of undersea warfare, in submitting a victim impact statement on behalf of the Navy in the case, said that Saucier's actions "have had far-reaching consequences for the United States and the Officers, Sailors and families who serve it."

Another retired senior chief, Bob Dulin, 73, said what Saucier did was wrong, but he's not sure Saucier got a just punishment.

As Saucier's lawyers and mother have done, Dulin, of Uncasville, compared the case with Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, which he characterized as "far worse" than what Saucier did.

Speaking at the Subvets clubhouse, Dulin echoed sentiments made by Davis that Saucier knew better than to take the pictures. But he said he would be OK with Trump pardoning Saucier or commuting his sentence, given Clinton was "let go" and that former President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, who leaked more than 700,000 classified documents while working as an Army intelligence analyst in Baghdad, Iraq.

Over lunch at the Subvets clubhouse Thursday, retired Navy Senior Chief and Subvets member P.W. Louthain, and Phil Sengle, a former 2nd class petty officer who served on surface ships, were torn.

Louthain expressed sympathy for Saucier, but said a commutation or even a pardon probably wouldn't make much of a difference, given Saucier is already several months into his yearlong prison sentence and received an other-than-honorable discharge from the Navy.

As for Trump, Louthain said he thinks the new president has more pressing issues to address.

Sengle wasn't sure whether Saucier should be pardoned or have his sentence commuted. But he wouldn't complain if either happened. He said he understood why Trump may choose not to do either, given the nature of the offense. He also cited backlash to Obama pardoning Manning, and to Clinton's private email use.

Bill Dunlap, a law professor at Quinnipiac University, doesn't see a lot of commonalities between Clinton, Manning and Saucier. The closer analogy, given the facts and circumstances of both, Dunlap said, is between Saucier's case and that of James Cartwright. Just before leaving office, Obama pardoned Cartwright, a retired Marine Corps general and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with reporters about the Iran nuclear program.

Pardoning or commuting Saucier's sentence "could open the (Trump) administration to criticism that they are soft on national security," Dunlap said.

And, while a pardon would "wipe out the criminal conviction and all the legal disabilities that attach to it," it "probably would not get him back his job with the Navy," Dunlap said.

It wouldn't set a legal precedent, either.

"In most cases, presidents run pardon and commutation requests through the Justice Department and usually follow the department's recommendation, in an effort to make the process look consistent and give it an air of legality, but it's actually purely political and discretionary," Dunlap said.

(c)2017 The Day (New London, Conn.)

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