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What to Know About Reality Leigh Winner, the Contractor Charged in Trump's First Leaking Case

Jun 06, 2017

A 25-year-old federal contractor from Georgia has been charged with leaking top-secret government information to the news media, the Justice Department said Monday.

Reality Leigh Winner allegedly mailed a classified report about Russia’s interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election to an online news outlet, according to the New York Times.

She was arrested at her home in Augusta, Ga. over the weekend and appeared in federal court Monday. Winner faces up to a decade in prison if convicted.

Here’s what to know about the accused leaker:

Who is she?

Winner has worked since February as a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation at a U.S. government agency facility in Georgia, where she has held top-secret clearance, federal prosecutors said.

Winner joined the military shortly after graduating from high school and previously worked as a linguist for the Air Force, her mother said. The Texas native can speak Farsi, Dari and Pashto and excelled in school and sports, according to her mother. Winner had told her mother that she opposed President Donald Trump, but she had not protested the administration publicly.

“I never thought this would be something she would do,” her mother Billie Winner-Davis told The Guardian. “I mean, she has expressed to me that she is not a fan of Trump, but she’s not someone who would go and riot or picket.”

“I am still in shock,” she added. “She’s a beautiful girl. Everyone who meets her loves her, and she’s kind.”

What is she accused of?

The Justice Department said Winner was charged with removing classified material from a government facility and illegally transmitting it to an online news outlet.

In May, she allegedly printed classified defense information from an intelligence community agency and sent it to a media outlet days later, federal prosecutors said.

The Justice Department did not name the news outlet. However, Winner’s arrest came hours after The Intercept published a May 5 intelligence report from the National Security Agency.

The investigative online news organization said in its report that the anonymously obtained classified intelligence report is the “most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.”

Winner could be fined and imprisoned up to 10 years, according to an FBI affidavit.

“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement. “People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation.”

How was she caught?

After the news outlet obtained the secret document, it reached out to the government agency for comment in June, an FBI affidavit said. The news outlet gave the agency a copy of the document, which led the federal agency to determine it was printed out of a secured space. An internal audit found that six people, allegedly including Winner, had printed the report.

The FBI said Winner was the only one who had email contact with the news outlet from her desk computer.

Winner allegedly admitted to printing the report and mailing it to the news outlet during a conversation with an FBI special agent at her home on June 3, according to the affidavit.

“Exceptional law enforcement efforts allowed us quickly to identify and arrest the defendant,” Rosenstein said.

Winner is “looking forward to putting this behind her,” her attorney Titus Thomas Nichols told NBC News. Nichols said Winner has no prior criminal history.

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange‏ rushed to Winner's defense, saying she "must be supported." "She is a young women accused of courage in trying to help us know," he tweeted.

What was the document?

The exact content of the leaked classified document is unclear. However, The Intercept reported that Russia had launched a cyberattack on at least one voting software supplier in the U.S. Citing a “highly classified intelligence report” from the NSA, The Intercept also alleged that Russian military intelligence sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials days before the presidential election. The NSA report said the efforts were likely an attempt to obtain information to “launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations,” according to The Intercept. The report did not address whether the alleged hacking affected the election results, according to the AP.

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