Augusta contractor charged with mishandling top-secret U.S. materials


A 25-year-old federal contractor in Augusta has been charged with sending to the news media a top-secret government report about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the Trump administration’s first such criminal leak case.

The government announced Reality Leigh Winner’s arrest Monday, about an hour after The Intercept reported that it had obtained a top-secret National Security Agency report about Russia’s interference. The NSA report, according to The Intercept, says Russian military intelligence officials executed a cyberattack on a U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials days before last November’s presidential election.

Former FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify Thursday before a Senate panel that is probing Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Comey was fired last month amid an FBI investigation into possible ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign.

In announcing the charge against Winner, the U.S. Justice Department did not identify the classified material — which was dated on or about May 5 — or the news outlet. But The Intercept reported the NSA document it received anonymously was dated May 5.

Trump has railed against leaks from his government, calling for a Justice Department investigation. While Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, described her as no fan of the president, she added, “she’s not an activist.”

Winner is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation and is assigned to a U.S. government facility in Georgia, where she has held a top-secret clearance, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The government started investigating her after the news outlet contacted it on Tuesday about an upcoming story concerning the intelligence materials.

The news outlet provided federal officials a copy of the classified information. Federal investigators said the pages appeared “folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.” They quickly identified six people who had printed the materials, including Winner, and found she had email contact with the news agency.

Related: Who is Reality Leigh Winner, the alleged NSA leaker?
Related: Exclusive - Accused NSA leaker’s stepdad: ‘She is a patriot’

Related: Federal contractor charged in leak case aired views on social media

While the Justice Department did not identify the material Winner allegedly mailed the news outlet, it did disclose it is classified at the “Top Secret level, indicating that its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security, and is marked as such.”

Winner’s attorney, Titus Nichols, said she is a U.S. Air Force veteran with no criminal convictions. Winner’s last station with the Air Force was at Fort Meade in Maryland, where the NSA is located. She was still in federal custody Monday, Nichols said, and a court hearing about her detention is set for Thursday. Nichols plans to argue for her release.

“We look forward to getting the evidence and reviewing it and working hard to resolve this matter so my client can put it behind her and so she can go back on with her life,” he said. “She is a good person.”

Monday, Winner-Davis, 51, of Kingsville, Texas, said she spoke to her daughter by phone after she was arrested Saturday.

“She was just in shock,” she said. “She was very quiet. She was scared.”

While Trump is “not her man,” Winner-Davis said, “she hasn’t gone to any riots or marches.” Her daughter was involved with an organization called Athletes Serving Athletes, and she would run with disabled children, helping them along. She also loves to paint and sketch and is fond of drawing Jesus Christ. Her photos on social media show her to be a fitness buff who enjoyed yoga and weightlifting.

“Reality is a beautiful person,” she said. “She’s kind and caring.”

Winner’s posts on Facebook and Twitter have been decidedly anti-Trump. She appeared to be acting on her strong political opinions, even recently visiting the office of a Republican U.S. senator. A Feb. 14 post on Facebook showed her standing outside the downtown Atlanta district office of U.S. Sen. David Perdue. She wrote, “A great American once told us to go out and have conversations with one another.”

One person posted a comment asking her how it went. She responded that she got a “private 30-minute meeting,” not specifying with whom, and said Perdue’s “state policy director is going to send me email updates on some of my concerns regarding climate change and what the state of Georgia is doing to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

“I was able to draw the parallel between the 2011 interview of President Bashar al Assad claiming utter ignorance of the human rights violations his citizens were protesting,” Winner wrote, “to Trump’s statement last week that the White House hadn’t received any calls about the DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline), nor were there any protests before last week. They got the message.”

Since the news of her arrest broke, other Facebook users have hijacked many of her posts with angry messages. Below the post about her visit to Perdue’s office, someone wrote, “Hope they toss you in Ft. Leavenworth for the better part of a half century. You are a TRAITOR to your country and the Govt. should absolutely make an example out of you!”

Other recent comments: “Leakers wear prison sneakers” and “Enjoy life in prison you traitor.” Under a photo of Winner doing a pull-up someone posted: “Looks like you’ll have fun lifting weights in prison for the next 10-20 years.”

A few people offered messages of support, such as, “Hey girl we need to send you money for your defense fund.”

If convicted of the charge of “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information,” Winner could face up to 10 years in prison, court records show.

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

Winner-Davis said she feels like she’s in a “whirlwind.” She traveled to Augusta and saw her daughter in court Monday but could not talk to her. They just exchanged glances.

“It’s hard not to cry,” she said.

Staff writers Johnny Edwards and Craig Schneider contributed to this story.

Read the FBI arrest application affidavit



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Water line work to close Johns Creek road
Water line work to close Johns Creek road

Construction of a water line for irrigation along Barnwell Road in Johns Creek will necessitate overnight road closures beginning Nov. 27 and continuing until the work is completed, city officials announced. To help accelerate construction of the Reuse Irrigation Main Line, Fulton County will increase working hours and close Barnwell to through traffic...
Coast Guard rescues 5 kayakers stranded on Jekyll Island
Coast Guard rescues 5 kayakers stranded on Jekyll Island

The Coast Guard rescued five kayakers Monday who were stranded on Jekyll Island, officials said.  The Brunswick station received a distress call at 2:06 p.m. from one of the distressed kayakers, the Coast Guard said in a news release.  <div></div><br><blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en"...
Dates, polling places set for Roswell runoff election
Dates, polling places set for Roswell runoff election

Advanced voting for the Dec. 5 municipal general and special runoff elections in Roswell will take place Nov. 27 through Dec. 1 at four locations in and around the city, officials announced. Early voting will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Alpharetta Branch Library, 10 Park Plaza; East Roswell Branch Library, 2301 Holcomb Bridge Road; Roswell...
Cherokee schools OK partnership with elections board
Cherokee schools OK partnership with elections board

Eligible Cherokee County students could register to vote at school and county elections officials would assist with programs such as mock elections, under a partnership agreement between the schools and county elections board. The Cherokee school board recently approved the agreement with the county Board of Elections and Registration Citing state...
Woodruff Park celebrates new amenities
Woodruff Park celebrates new amenities

Woodruff Park recently celebrated the outcomes of its Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community grant, including the debut of new amenities that enliven the southwest end of the park. In April 2016, Central Atlanta Progress, Southwest Airlines Co. and Project for Public Spaces announced a joint effort to maximize Woodruff Park’s unique potential...
More Stories