Treasury employee charged with leaking details of Manafort’s suspicious bank transactions to BuzzFeed News
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, an official in the U.S. Treasury’s financial crimes division (FinCEN), was arrested on October 16, 2018, and charged with giving details about suspicious banking transactions to a reporter at BuzzFeed News.
From October 2017 through October 2018, BuzzFeed News has published a series of investigations into suspicious banking transactions made by Russian diplomats and by Trump associates, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. These BuzzFeed News investigations were largely based on so-called “Suspicious Activity Reports” — confidential reports that financial institutions are required to file to alert FinCEN of potential money laundering and other suspicious banking transactions.
Although SARs are not classified, it is illegal to disclose them without authorization:
A Federal, State, local, territorial, or Tribal government authority, or any director, officer, employee, or agent of any of the foregoing, shall not disclose a SAR, or any information that would reveal the existence of a SAR, except as necessary to fulfill official duties consistent with Title II of the Bank Secrecy Act.
31 CFR § 1020.320(e)(2)
On October 16, 2018, Edwards was arrested and charged with one count of unauthorized disclosures of SARs and one count of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of SARs. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The criminal complaint against Edwards details the FBI’s investigation of her communications with Jason Leopold, an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed News. Although the complaint does not explicitly name Leopold or BuzzFeed, it specifically references articles written by him, making clear that Leopold is the journalist identified in the complaint as “Reporter-1.”
According to the complaint, federal investigators used search warrants to obtain access to both Edwards’ personal email account, which allegedly revealed emails between her and Leopold, and her cell phone records, which allegedly revealed calls and text messages sent between her and Leopold. The complaint also states that federal investigators were able to determine that she and Leopold communicated over an encrypted messaging app, though it is not clear how they were able to do so.
FBI agents finally seized Edwards’ phone and placed her under arrest after questioning her on October 16 about her communications with Leopold. Once they seized her phone, investigators were able to read some of the encrypted messages that she had exchanged with Leopold.
The FBI investigation of Edwards may also have exposed another one of Leopold’s sources. This second source is referred to in the complaint as “CC-1” and identified as Edwards’ supervisor at FinCEN. According to the complaint, federal investigators seized this person’s phone records and found that they had also exchanged text messages, phone calls, and encrypted messages with the journalist. Unlike Edwards, this second source does not currently face any criminal charges.
On October 17, Edwards appeared in court and was released on a $100,000 bond, CNN reports. She was ordered not to have any contact with the BuzzFeed journalist or with “CC-1,” her former supervisor and alleged co-conspirator.