Espionage act

Woman, 26, 1st person charged by Trump administration with leaking classified secrets, pleads guilty

Reality Winner exits the Augusta Courthouse June 8, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

A former NSA contractor who was arrested in June 2017 and charged with leaking classified government information to the news media, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday. Reality Winner, a former Air Force linguist, agreed to a guilty plea of one felony count of leaking classified information and in exchange will spend five years, three months in prison. Winner was being charged under the Espionage Act and, had she not reached a plea deal, her trial was slated to begin in October.

After leaving the Air Force, Winner began working for a tech firm that provided contractors to government agencies. She landed at the National Security Agency and last year, prosecutors alleged, she leaked a document to the news website The Intercept. The document contained a top secret report about what the U.S. government learned about Russia’s hacking efforts during the 2016 election campaign season. It was published by The Intercept last year. The same day, Winner was arrested. Officials said a visible crease in the document was the clue that eventually led them to pinpoint Winner as a suspect. She is the first person the Trump administration prosecuted for allegedly leaking classified secrets. At least two cases against other suspects are pending.

She appeared in federal court in Georgia wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. Winner has been in custody, held without bail, since her arrest. “All of my actions I did willfully, meaning I did so of my own free will,” Winner told the judge, according to The New York Times. She responded to questions on whether she understood the charges and the plea deal terms by nodding her head affirmatively. Her mother, Billie Winner-Davis reportedly wept as U.S. marshals led Winner out of the courtroom. A judge will formally sentence Winner at a later date.

“I’m not going to say that Reality is innocent. I think that she did something that was wrong,” her mother told reporters outside the courthouse afterward. “I hope that people don’t judge her by this one action, by this one mistake. I hope that people really look at her as the person that she is. She has always gone out of her way to serve her communities, to help people.”

But, Winner-Davis said, the Espionage Act is too tough a law and needs changing.

“It’s harsh, it’s outdated, it needs to be reformed,” Winner-Davis said. “I wanted to fight the Espionage Act. Reality Winner, I don’t want her name to go down as being someone in history who betrayed or hurt her country.”

Below, watch video of Winner-Davis speaking with reporters about her daughter’s guilty plea.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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