Interviews

Sen. Tom Cotton blasts Obama's 'unwise' decision on Manning

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," January 18, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST:  All right, she suffered enough, Chelsea Manning that was the view from the president of the United States.  But did she?  And coming out now of prison in a couple months, that is shaving about almost 30 years off a prison sentence.  

Arkansas Senator, Senate Armed Services Committee member Tom Cotton with us now.

Senator, what do you make of what the president said today?  

SEN. TOM COTTON, R-ARKANSAS:  Well, Neil, it's very disappointing, and it doesn't justify his unwise decision to commute almost 28 years off the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified reports that put at risk the lives of Americans and people around the world who cooperated with us.

And it's going to be very hurtful to us going forward as well.  We depend on the cooperation of people around the world to help advance our interests.  And with the president in such a prominent, high-profile way deciding to cut short the sentence of someone who leaked that information, it's going to cause people to think twice about whether they are willing to cooperate with the United States.  

CAVUTO:  Now, there was a large and growing group of those in the LGBT community and elsewhere who were arguing on Chelsea Manning's defense and early release because maybe the whole transgender thing.  I have no idea.  

But something changed the president's mind to do what he did and to make the argument that she has suffered enough.  He even didn't the parallel between the irony of it, arguing for someone who was very instrumental in getting the WikiLeaks and the stuff that got out and embarrassed, for example, Hillary Clinton, and the stuff that has really been a consternation for Democrats, saying that that tipped the election, and then doing this, that there was no connection.  

What did you think of that?  

COTTON:  Well, Neil, Chelsea Manning's change from Bradley Manning to Chelsea Manning is really beside the point when it comes to the crimes that she committed against her fellow Americans.  

CAVUTO:  But do you think, Senator, it would have been the same had he remained or she remained Bradley Manning?  

COTTON:  Neil, I can't read Barack Obama's mind.  

His answers today didn't hold weight with me. The fact of the matter is, she received a 35-year sentence for very serious crimes.  She would have been up for parole in just a few years.  The ordinary operation of the military justice system, if she was going to be released early, would have been much better than a sensational, high-profile, much-discussed presidential pardon, because of the signal it sends to those people all around the world who now doubt whether the American government will be able to keep their identity secret if they decide to cooperate with America.  

CAVUTO:  All right.  So, you noticed and didn't get any word that LGBT groups and others who were arguing on her behalf didn't influence this decision?  You don't think that was at all the case?

COTTON:  Neil, like I said, I can't read the president's mind.  

CAVUTO:  Understood.

COTTON:  It certainly is not an issue for me.  What I care about is the crimes that she committed and the signal that we're now sending around the world.  

CAVUTO:  I think, as one of your Republicans said, the crimes she committed or he committed, doesn't matter the gender, just the crimes.  

But let's step back a little bit and get to this anger that is developing, because we're getting mixed messages certainly from the White House that the intelligence leaks and everything was consequential, and meaning, and damaging to Democrats and particularly Hillary Clinton, but this stuff is not.  

What did you think?  

COTTON:  I don't know, Neil.  

Maybe Barack Obama's position on WikiLeaks is that it's bad when it embarrasses Democrats, but it's good when it undermines our national security.  I think it's bad all along.  It's a front for adversarial powers.  And we should take our secrecy laws and classified information very seriously.  

CAVUTO:  I guess some people were worried that Julian Assange would similarly get pardoned or given some sort of special presidential nod. That didn't appear the case today, at least, listening to the president.

But he is still president for another 38, 39, 40 hours.  So what do you think could happen?  

COTTON:  That's right, Neil.  

And, obviously, Chelsea Manning's case is the most high-profile.  But we shouldn't overlook some of the other actions President Obama has taken this week.  

He released a convicted Puerto Rican terrorist.  He released hundreds of drug traffickers and drug dealers, keeping with his practice of letting victim criminals go early out of prison.

His also released 10 detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Oman.  Some of these were the hardest of the hard-core, people who were close associates with bin Laden.  So, his actions over the last several days have badly undermined our national security, they have badly undermined law and order here in the United States.  I hope that he doesn't continue this over the next two days, but never know.  

CAVUTO:  All right, Senator Tom Cotton, thank you very, very much.  Very good seeing you again.

COTTON:  Thanks, Neil.  

CAVUTO:  All right.  

END

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