Andy Coulson at Leveson: 10 things we learned

Including, that he retained £40,000 of News Corporation shares.

1. He retained News Corporation shares worth £40,000 throughout his time at Downing Street but was "never asked about any share or stock holdings". Coulson claimed this was because he wasn't involved "in any commercial issues". In retrospect, he wishes he had "paid more attention" to the issue.

2. In a phone conversation confirming his appointment as the Conservatives' director of communications, Coulson told David Cameron that he "knew nothing" about the phone-hacking committed by News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

3. Cameron sought no assurances after the Guardian reported in 2009 that phone-hacking was more widespread than News International claimed.

4. He "may" have had access to top-secret state material, despite only having low-level clearance.

5. The Guardian suggested to him that it was "possible" that the paper would endorse the Conservatives at the 2010 general election. Coulson's witness statement revealed: "At a drinks reception in David Cameron's office a Guardian executive told me not to 'write off' the idea of a Guardian endorsement."

6. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown offered their "commiserations" when he resigned as editor of the News of the World. Coulson could not recall whether David Cameron did.

7. He was a "little disappointed" by the manner of the Sun's endorsement of the Conservatives. "I felt it was more a rejection of Labour than a positive endorsement of us. If I'd had half the influence on The Sun that some claim, that front page would have looked very different." (The tabloid's headline was "Labour's lost it".)

8. Gordon Brown told him in 2006 that he had it "on very good authority" that Rupert Murdoch would appoint Coulson as editor of the Sun when Rebekah Brooks became chief executive of News International (Brooks's promotion was eventually announced in June 2009, more than two years after Coulson had resigned as editor of the News of the World.) Coulson interpreted this an attempt by Brown to "impress on me his closeness to Rupert Murdoch."

9. The other frontrunner to become Downing Street director of communications was Guto Harri, who went on to become Boris Johnson's Director of Communications. Harri has now left Johnson's administration and is rumoured to have accepted a senior press role at News International.

10. He was not involved in "any way, shape or form" in the handling of News Corp's bid for full control of BSkyB.

Bonus: He sat between Rupert Murdoch and Whoopi Goldberg at a post-election dinner in New York. "I spent most of my time at the table talking to her."

Former News of the World editor and Downing Street communications chief, Andy Coulson, leaves his home in London earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.