In March 2012 a local workman spotted a cell phone on top of a pile of trash in a dumpster in Hampton, Conn. Thinking he had scored a free phone, the workman turned it on only to discover photos of what appeared to be a Navy ship, including instrument panels.
The workman didn't know it, but this wasn't just any Navy ship, but the USS Alexandria, a nuclear-powered submarine. The photos were a few years old, from 2009, but the FBI would later determine some of the images showed classified information, including a view of the reactor compartment and another that could've identified the sub's exact location at the time.
The workman also found other photos: those of Kristian Saucier, a Navy machinist's mate who served aboard the Alexandria and apparently the owner of the phone. The workman contacted an friend who was a retired Navy Chief, who in turn contacted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. That when Saucier's life began to turn sideways.
The resulting three-year investigation by NCIS and the FBI -- including a law enforcement interview with Saucier in which he lied to investigators and then attempted to surreptitiously destroy evidence related to the photos -- ended in Saucier's arrest in May 2015.
Saucier, who was 22 years old when he took the photos, pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information and was sentenced in August 2016 to a year in prison. In his judgment, U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill wrote that while "the crime and conviction is serious because of the significant risk to national security posed by taking the photographs and keeping them on a cellphone, from which they could easily be transmitted or discovered by others... [t]here is no evidence that Saucier was directed to take the subject photographs, that he disclosed them to a foreign country or agent, or that he was compensated for taking the photographs."
"He was young at the time of the offense conduct, which appears to reflect foolishness more than nefariousness," Underhill wrote.
As the end of Saucier's case was playing out, he became a political flash point. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump said in November 2016 that what Saucier had done was "nothing by comparison" to what Trump saw as Hillary Clinton's misdeeds related to her private email server.
Earlier this year, Trump appeared to reference Saucier's case again in a tweet, saying on Jan. 2, "Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on [former FBI Director James] Comey & others"
But Trump's pardon, which came to light in a brief announcement by White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders Friday, may have been a reaction to Saucier pleading his case through one of Trump's favorite television programs, "Fox and Friends."
"Obviously, there’s two different sets of laws in this country, for the politically elite and for those lower-level individuals, Americans like myself," said Saucier, who would've completed his prison sentence in late 2017 but would still be subject to the conditions of supervised release. "And I think that’s very upsetting on a basic level for most people. It should be.
"I accepted responsibility. I didn’t go to trial. I pleaded guilty. I said, 'Look, I made a mistake when I was a young kid, and my family still continues... to be punished for that mistake.' Whereas Hillary Clinton not only was not punished, but was allowed to run for the highest office in the country, and that should be very upsetting to the American people."
Whether Trump heard that plea or not, a few days later the president pardoned Saucier, the second pardon he's enacted since taking office.
“It gives me back my good name and gives me a chance to move forward,” Saucier told The New York Daily News. “It’s an amazing thing.”
"Congratulations to Kristian Saucier, a man who has served proudly in the Navy, on your newly found Freedom. Now you can go out and have the life you deserve!" Trump tweeted Saturday.
Congratulations to Kristian Saucier, a man who has served proudly in the Navy, on your newly found Freedom. Now you can go out and have the life you deserve!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 10, 2018
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