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President Obama largely commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, an Army private convicted in 2013 of taking secret diplomatic and military documents and disclosing them to WikiLeaks.
Obama also granted a full and complete pardon to Ret. Marine General James E. Cartwright for lying to the FBI in a probe of a leak of classified information about a covert U.S.-Israeli cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program. A former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was known as Obama’s favorite general, Cartwright pleaded guilty in October and was sentenced last week to two years in prison.
In addition, Obama granted clemency to about 200 low-level drug offenders who were sentenced under harsh drug laws and would have received lighter sentences if convicted today. In all, the president commuted 209 individuals and pardoned another 64. He is expected to grant more drug commutations on Wednesday.
More from Vox: Chelsea Manning’s commutation is part of a historic year in reducing prison sentences.
A few days before leaving office, President Obama broke one of his own records. Pardoning 64 people and shortening the prison sentences of another 209, he made Tuesday the biggest use of clemency by a president in a single day in US history — breaking a record he himself set last month.
It’s the culmination of a year-long effort to use the president’s clemency power to get hundreds of people — almost all of them nonviolent drug offenders — out of prison sooner.
Depending on how you look at it, Obama’s effort in the twilight of his presidency is either a historic act of criminal justice reform — or too little too late. Obama’s rejected thousands of petitions for reduced sentences, and there are still thousands more waiting for review — and the Trump administration, under attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, is extremely unlikely to give them a second look.
Obama still has more time to get even more people out of federal prison — after all, presidents historically get most aggressive with clemency in the very last days of their term. But while it’s now clear that Obama’s done something very significant indeed, it’s also near-certain that it will, in some ways, fall short.