Reality Winner charged with leaking information to The Intercept
Reality Winner, a 25-year-old Air Force veteran and federal contractor, was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act on June 3, 2017.
Winner is accused of sending journalists a top-secret NSA intelligence report, which showed that the NSA had collected intelligence suggesting that Russian military intelligence had tried to gain access to states’ electronic voting systems in 2016. The Intercept published a partially-redacted version of the report on June 5, 2017.
On June 8, Winner was arraigned on one count of violating the the Espionage Act, a century-old law that criminalizes the disclosure of national defense information. Winner pleaded not guilty.
She was denied bail and is currently being held in jail pending trial.
The Intercept has said that the NSA report it published was mailed to it anonymously, so it does not technically know whether Winner was its source. First Look Media, parent company of The Intercept, has pledged to support Winner’s legal defense through its Press Freedom Defense Fund.
Winner is the first person to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act since Trump took office. During the Obama administration, the Department of Justice prosecuted eight people under the Espionage Act for sharing classified information with journalists.
The Intercept reports that Winner’s trial, originally scheduled for October 2017, has been delayed until March 2018, to give her defense attorneys enough time to receive security clearances and review classified information relevant to the case.
In a written statement, Winner said that the armed FBI agents who raided her house on June 3 never told her that she had the right to remain silent before interviewing her and eliciting an alleged confession. Winner’s attorneys are arguing that her confession should not be admissible evidence at trial if the FBI agents did not inform of her constitutional rights before interrogating her.
The Intercept reports that a federal judge denied Winner’s second request for bail, ruling that she remained a dangerous flight risk.
As part of a plea deal, Winner is pleading guilty to one count of violating a provision of the Espionage Act, and will agree to a total prison sentence of 63 months (5 years and 3 months), plus 3 years of supervised release.
A judge still needs to approve the plea deal and hold a sentencing hearing for Winner, so it’s possible that the sentence could ultimately
Since her arrest on June 3, 2017, Winner has been held without bail at a county jail in Lincolnton, Georgia. Those 13 months of pre-trial detention are expected to count toward the total 63-month prison sentence.
“I believe that this plea is in Reality’s best interest at this time,” Winner’s mother told the Courage Foundation. “Given the time and circumstances and the nature of the Espionage charge I believe that this was the only way that she could receive a fair sentence. I still disagree strongly with the use of the Espionage charge against citizens like Reality.”
In a statement, Intercept editor in chief Betsy Reed condemned the government’s prosecution of Winner:
Despite the fact that Winner’s disclosure served the public interest by alerting Americans to vulnerabilities in our voting system, the Trump-Sessions Justice Department prosecuted her with vicious resolve under the Espionage Act. Her plea agreement reflects the conclusion of Winner and her lawyers that the terms of this deal represent the best outcome possible for her in the current environment. She not only faced unrelenting pressure from prosecutors, but a series of setbacks in the courtroom severely restricted her lawyers’ ability to defend her.
She deserves better from her country, as do all journalistic sources who put themselves at risk for the greater good.
Statement from Betsy Reed, The Intercept editor in chief
On August 28, 2018, federal district court judge James Randal Hall sentenced Winner to 63 months in prison, plus three years of supervised release, on August 23, 2018. It is the longest sentence that anyone has ever received for leaking information to journalists.