Harvard Disinvites Chelsea Manning, and the Feeling Is Mutual
Chelsea Manning has declined an offer to speak at Harvard after a dean at the university revoked his invitation for her to be a visiting fellow there.
Douglas W. Elmendorf, the dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, told Ms. Manning in a phone call at about 12:30 a.m. on Friday that the school was no longer offering her the fellowship, according to a source familiar with the conversation. The decision was made public shortly afterward.
Harvard had faced harsh criticism for including Ms. Manning, a former Army private convicted of leaking classified information, in the visiting fellows program at the school’s Institute of Politics. Ms. Manning was named to the group on Wednesday, joining Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, and Corey Lewandowski, a former campaign manager for President Trump, among others. Fellows travel to Harvard to meet with students and discuss politics and other topics.
Mr. Elmendorf told Ms. Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for providing classified information to WikiLeaks, that she was still invited to speak at Harvard. But he said that the school could no longer give her the title of visiting fellow. The school was concerned that the title implied an endorsement and did not want to come across as endorsing Ms. Manning and her views, he said.
When asked by a member of Ms. Manning’s team why Mr. Spicer and Mr. Lewandowski were being endorsed, Mr. Elmendorf said that they had something to bring to the table, the source said.
The call lasted about 10 minutes; Ms. Manning’s team left the conversation stunned and insulted.
The sudden turnabout by the school came after a day of intense backlash over the university’s announcement that Ms. Manning had been included. Mr. Elmendorf said that while the university encouraged a diversity of opinions and did not shy away from controversy, naming Ms. Manning a fellow was a mistake for which he accepted responsibility.
“I see more clearly now that many people view a visiting fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations,” he wrote in a letter posted on the Harvard Kennedy School website early Friday morning, shortly after the phone call with Ms. Manning. “I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation.”
In his statement, Mr. Elmendorf said the university had extended the fellowship to Ms. Manning because she fit the school’s tradition of asking influential people to address students.
After news that the invitation had been revoked became public, Ms. Manning tweeted that she was “honored” to be disinvited and that the institution was chilling “marginalized voices under C.I.A. pressure.”
In another tweet, she contrasted herself with Mr. Spicer and Mr. Lewandowski.
"honored to be 1st disinvited trans woman visiting @harvard fellow \they chill marginalized voices under @cia pressure"
"so @harvard says @seanspicer & @Clewandowski_ bring "something to the table and add something to the conversation" and not me"
Chase Strangio, a lawyer for Ms. Manning, wrote in a statement that the decision to withdraw the invitation “in the middle of the night without coherent explanation is disgraceful even for Harvard.” He also accused the school of being beholden to the C.I.A.
The decision by the Kennedy School followed forceful denunciations by a former top official at the C.I.A. and the current director at the agency.
Michael J. Morell, a deputy director at the intelligence agency under President Barack Obama, resigned as a fellow on Thursday, calling the invitation to Ms. Manning “wholly inappropriate.” He said it “honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information.”
“It is my right, indeed my duty, to argue that the school’s decision is wholly inappropriate and to protest it by resigning from the Kennedy School,” Mr. Morell wrote to Mr. Elmendorf. The letter was obtained and reported on by CBS News, where Mr. Morell is a national security contributor.
Mr. Morell did not respond to an email Thursday night, and the Kennedy School did not respond to a request for comment.
Later on Thursday, the director of the C.I.A., Mike Pompeo, withdrew from a Harvard forum he was scheduled to participate in that night, citing Ms. Manning’s fellowship as the reason.
“Ms. Manning betrayed her country,” Mr. Pompeo, who graduated from Harvard Law School, wrote in a letter to a Kennedy School official, adding that he commended Mr. Morell’s decision to resign.
He said that his withdrawal “has everything to do with her identity as a traitor to the United States of America and my loyalty to the officers of the C.I.A.”
Ms. Manning was convicted in 2010 for giving WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables and military reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Obama commuted her sentence in January as one of his final acts as president, and she was released in May.
Since 2013, Mr. Morell had served as a nonresident senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, which is also part of the Kennedy School. In his letter, Mr. Morell said he worried that Ms. Manning’s actions would “encourage others to leak classified information as well.”
“I have an obligation to my conscience,” he wrote.
Matthew Rosenberg contributed reporting.