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After a Year Stuck in Jail, Reality Winner to Accept Plea Deal for Leaking NSA Report on Russian Election Meddling

Our terrible federal espionage laws won’t let her argue the leak served the public’s interest.

Reality WinnerSTRINGER/REUTERS/NewscomReality Winner—the young contract employee arrested and prosecuted for espionage after leaking a secret National Security Agency (NSA) report about Russian attempts to infiltrate U.S. voting systems prior to the 2016 election—has reportedly accepted a plea deal.

Winner was arrested a year ago, the first leak prosecution under President Donald Trump. The 26-year-old woman worked as an NSA contractor near Augusta, Georgia. She is accused of leaking a top-secret report to The Intercept detailing attempts by Russian hackers to infiltrate voter registration systems.

Winner's case immediately became politicized because of her own personal beliefs and public criticisms of President Trump. But as I noted back then, there was nothing about the report Winner leaked that connected to Trump at all. It was information that Americans arguably deserved to know about attempts by foreign governments to directly interfere with election outcomes. It wasn't about silly social media campaigns or Twitter bots.

Unfortunately, the Espionage Act doesn't care why somebody leaks top secret information and the law doesn't care if a leak is arguably in the public interest. That's why Edward Snowden is hidden away in Russia. Even if many Americans believe the surveillance information that he leaked served the public's interest and right to know, he's not allowed to raise that defense in a trial.

So it goes with Winner. Her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that this played into the decision to accept a plea. Winner potentially faces a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 if convicted (though she'd probably be sentenced to much less).

Winner-Davis speculated that the Espionage Act—which takes only the underlying act of leaking into account, not motive or mitigating circumstances—was too difficult to fight. Her daughter's legal team suffered one defeat after another in rulings handed down by the judge, and Epps declined to release Winner from jail while her charges were pending.

"I'm not happy about it," Winner-Davis said of the plea deal. "I still feel like the espionage charge is wrong. I feel like it's harsh. I feel like it doesn't allow a defendant to defend themselves."

Whatever happens in court next week, she said she will continue to fight to clear her daughter's name: "Regardless of what she's been charged with, she's not a traitor to this country."

Winner was denied bail this whole time, even though she's very obviously not a danger to the community. Federal judges accepted the possibility that she's a flight risk, even though she had given up her passport and agreed to be monitored, based on her previous declarations of support for both Snowden and Julian Assange.

The details of the plea won't be known until next week. Winner is just the latest of a small parade of leak-related prosecutions that started under President Barack Obama, and that the Trump administration is more than happy to continue.

Photo Credit: STRINGER/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • Citizen X||

    Even if many Americans believe the surveillance information that he leaked served the public's interest and right to know, he's not allowed to raise that defense in a trial.

    How is this not a violation of, at the very least, the 1st Amendment?

  • Rat on a train||

    The law does not permit a public good defense. The only defense I can think of would be to challenge the classification. Even that is a long shot because a challenge would need to go through approved channels. It pretty simple that you can't give classified information to unclear persons.

  • CE||

    All the lawyer has to do is call his client to the stand, and ask open ended questions. Let the judge tell the jury to disregard the answer, which of course they won't.

  • Mickey Rat||

    I suppose that is the reason why the Espionage Act does not care why someone violates it, just that the documents were passed without authorization.

    If your attitude is that there should be no secret documents then prosecuting anyone is wrong. If you think secret documents are proper, then it is not the scope of work for a low level functionary to take it upon themselves to decide on their own which.documents should be made public.

  • CE||

    It's always the scope of every free person to take it upon themselves to decide what is just and right.

  • Rat on a train||

    If you sign a NDA, you can break it and take the consequences, which is what happened here.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Exactly. She can choose to leak if she thinks some program the government is doing is especially egregious, but consequences go along with it.

  • Cy||

    "but consequences go along with it."

    Unless you have the right last name.

  • DajjaI||

    She may have had good intentions, but she wasn't very bright. I think she got suckered into a false flag by The Intercept to discredit the Russian meddlin' hysteria. (Basically to claim they had a smoking gun and then later 'discover' it was nothing.)

  • damikesc||

    She may have had good intentions, but she wasn't very bright. I think she got suckered into a false flag by The Intercept to discredit the Russian meddlin' hysteria. (Basically to claim they had a smoking gun and then later 'discover' it was nothing.)

    That's been the case for every single smoking gun in the "investigation" to date. Hell, I'm surprised the FBI is getting slaughtered in this case far more than Trump.

  • perlchpr||

    Seems a bit harsh, given the Hillary precedent...

  • Rat on a train||

    Your chances improve if you have the right connections.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    Reality Winner...

    Deserves the harshest possible punishment for having that name.

    It looks like Miss Winner...

    *dons sunglasses*

    is the real loser.

  • Rat on a train||

    Don't fault the child for the sins of the parents.

  • Yellow Tony||

    She could've legally changed her name.

  • Rat on a train||

    You know who else changed names?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Tulpa?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Shrike?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    American Socialist?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    OBL?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili?

  • CE||

    Great name if she's ever on a reality TV show though.

  • Sevo||

    "Unfortunately, the Espionage Act doesn't care why somebody leaks top secret information and the law doesn't care if a leak is arguably in the public interest."

    OK, but it certainly DOS care who handles classified material as if it was a shopping list; ask that hag who lost the election.

  • Z565||

    Trump recklessly shares classified information with his dinner guests, Russian spies and god knows who else. If it's about mishandling classified information Trump is by far the greater offender.

  • Rat on a train||

    The President has declassification authority. Original Classification Authorities also have declassification authority over information under their jurisdiction. Classification program managers have authority to remove their programs restrictions. Everyone else must follow the appropriate guide.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    He has TDS and does not even know how presidential declassification authority works.

  • Sevo||

    "Trump recklessly shares classified information with his dinner guests, Russian spies and god knows who else."
    You're full of shit, loser.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    One might even say it's Etch-A-Sketchy.

  • Bubba Jones||

    This article should clarify that her name is "Reality Winner" and that you didn't just make up a stupid headline.

  • Sevo||

    "This article should clarify that her name is "Reality Winner" and that you didn't just make up a stupid headline."
    I read far enough to figure it out, but the first impression was a reality TV star.

  • Rat on a train||

    They should be imprisoned for the public good.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Hammer her stupid ass!

    Then go after Hillary for mishandling classified information.

  • MWG||

    ^This is what real libertarians believe.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Rule of Law is what Libertarians believe.

    Anarchists believe in no government to create nor administer law.

  • SparktheRevolt||

    "Rule of Law is what Libertarians believe."

    Uhh what?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The fact that you don't know why Libertarians would want Rule of Law is very telling about you.

  • dwshelf||

    Such traitors to the country need to be harshly punished.

    I sure don't want every dingbat deciding which classified information "needs" to be published. No one else does either, when they grasp the consequences.

  • CE||

    I hope everyone in possession of classified information has the guts to leak it when it's in the public interest.

  • Rat on a train||

    Post your name, date and place of birth, address, phone number, SSN, etc. It is in the public interest.

  • damikesc||

    Indeed. No secrets, right?

  • Rat on a train||

    If some employee of the IRS determines the public needs to know it then it is all good.

  • CE||

    The law is stupid but it's the law. The 8th Amendment is also the law, and it's not stupid at all. She should be out on bail. And the jury should be allowed to vote her not guilty, even if she technically broke the law. Her lawyer should have her testify and she should say why she made the leak. Let the judge tell the jurors to disregard her remarks.

  • SIV||

    Lol!

    Dumb cunt.

  • JBSparks||

    It sounds like she would have to be a legal scholar for anyone to determine if she acted with intent to do the wrong thing. I sure am glad that intent defense is there post Hillary

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