WASHINGTON — Republican senators expressed outrage and disbelief on Tuesday following President Barack Obama's decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst who leaked thousands of military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010.
"I think that it's so, it's so inappropriate to pardon someone who put the lives of other men and women serving in uniform in danger," said Republican Sen. John McCain, who served in the military and was captured during the Vietnam War. "I'm stunned."
The White House announced on Tuesday that the president had commuted — not pardoned — the 35-year sentence Manning received in 2013 for leaking more than 700,000 military documents, including footage of US airstrikes that killed more than a dozen civilians and two journalists.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Obama's decision was "outrageous."
"Manning stabbed fellow service members in the back by releasing classified information that put their safety at risk," Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill. "President Obama's granting clemency is a slap in the face to all those who served honorably."
In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan echoed Graham's comments, saying Obama's decision set a "dangerous precedent."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called Manning's commutation "shameful."
"Private Manning further aided our enemies by disclosing highly classified sources and methods our intelligence professionals rely on to obtain secrets in defense of our nation," Rubio said in a statement released Tuesday evening. "It is shameful that President Obama is siding with lawbreakers and the ACLU against the men and women who work every day to defend our nation and safeguard US government secrets.”
Sen. Richard Shelby told reporters he also felt Obama's decision set a bad example. "Looks to me like he's abusing his power," he said.
Sen. Cory Gardner said that he had been in a confirmation hearing for Rep. Ryan Zinke all day and hadn't heard about the commutation yet, but will "remain concerned about what President Obama will be doing in the next 72 hours."
At least one Democrat questioned the president's decision to commute Manning's sentence. Sen. Bob Menendez told CNN he was "really surprised" by the news.
"At a time that we are seriously questioning what Russia did as it relates to our recent elections and the role that WikiLeaks, in a different iteration, has played in that regard, I'm not sure what type of message we send here," Menendez said.
Another Democrat, Sen. Tim Kaine, told reporters he wanted to read Obama's explanation for the commutation before making a comment.
The White House said Manning is scheduled to be released from prison on May 17.