How much of a role did Hollywood play in Chelsea Manning's release?

There remains considerable debate over how former President Barack Obama arrived at the decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning. His own explanation that the sentence was “excessive” considering the nature of the crime strains credulity as far as I’m concerned, so some other factors may have been involved. It was worth asking initially if the Twitter offer of Julian Assange to turn himself in might have been a consideration, but I’m silly enough to hope that Obama wasn’t foolish enough to bite on that deal. (Let’s hope not anyway, since it was retracted almost immediately.) So could someone else have brought some pressure to bear? The New York Post has one interesting theory this week and it involves voices not from across the sea, but from Hollywood.


David Geffen, of Dreamworks and Geffen Records fame, is said to have been lobbying hard to have Manning released and he had put his money where his mouth was very early.

Entertainment mogul David Geffen lobbied the Obama administration to commute Army leaker Chelsea Manning’s sentence, The Post has learned.

“He tried to collect on all the support he has given Obama,” said a Hollywood insider. “The payback was getting Manning out of jail.”

The Brooklyn-born billionaire and philanthropist had been one of ex-President Barack Obama’s biggest financial supporters, raising millions during his first run for the White House in 2008.

Geffen is the sort of person who can get the ear of any major figures in the Democratic Party when he wants it. The sums of money which have flown into the party coffers and campaign war chests with his name attached is staggering. As the Post reports, he’s personally donated more than half a million dollars to various Democratic candidates and causes on top of organizing fundraisers which brought in millions more.

The second factor is that Geffen is not only openly gay, but a serious activist on LGBT issues. He’d long wanted to see Manning set free once the Army private announced that he was transgender. So the idea that he was not only able to gain access to the Oval Office but highly motivated to lobby on Manning’s behalf is hardly far fetched. The only question is whether or not that was one of the final deciding factors. Sadly, we’ll never know that answer for sure.


One other bit of Manning news isn’t quite as good for Chelsea. He was scheduled to have his “transition” surgery coming up and the government was going to fund it. As it turns out, the Army is going to pass on taking care of that detail now that he will no loner be in their employ.

Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the national-security leaker and transgender soldier, will lose her entitlement to military health care benefits under the terms of the sentence that President Obama commuted, according to the Army…

She had been a candidate for gender-reassignment surgery, which would have been paid for under the Pentagon’s new policy for transgender troops.

But the terms of the 35-year sentence the court-martial imposed includes a “dishonorable discharge,” which the commutation did not affect, Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said Wednesday.

“If Pvt. Manning is discharged with a dishonorable discharge, she will lose her entitlement to (military) benefits, including gender-transition care at (military) medical treatment facilities,” Smith said.

Yes, a dishonorable discharge tends to eliminate most of the benefits that veterans receive after serving their nation honorably. That’s a pretty severe hit to the wallet, since some estimates I’m seeing indicate that the full course of transgender treatments, surgery and post-operative care can run anywhere from $100K to $140K. On top of that, many health plans don’t cover it, so the out of pocket expenses could be pretty much insurmountable without a hefty bankroll.


Then again, maybe Manning could talk to David Geffen about paying for it. He seems to be pretty well off.

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