Reality Winner’s supporters said they delivered petitions with more than 16,000 signatures to the U.S. Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington Thursday, asking the agency to drop its charges against the accused National Security Agency leaker.
Among those delivering the petitions on “Whistleblower Appreciation Day” were representatives from several groups, including CodePink, Defending Rights & Dissent, RootsAction.org, Whistleblower and Source Protection Program and Stand with Reality, a nonprofit campaign that is supporting Winner’s case through advocacy and fundraising.
"We should not be charging whistleblowers acting in the public interest, disclosing information responsibly to journalists, as if they were traitors to our country. Anyone who cares about a free press should be concerned about her case,” Rainey Reitman, co-founder of Stand with Reality, said in a prepared statement.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors have accused Winner of leaking to The Intercept online news outlet a top-secret NSA report about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The Intercept published the report, which says Russian military intelligence officials tried to hack into the U.S. voting system just before last November’s election.
A federal grand jury has indicted Winner, 25, on a single count of "willful retention and transmission of national defense information.” She faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Winner, who is being held in the Lincoln County Jail, has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are defending their proposed rules for safeguarding top-secret information during her trial, now set for Oct. 23 in Augusta. Winner’s defense attorneys have argued those rules could block her from getting a fair hearing. Specifically, they have said the government’s proposed protective order could prevent Winner from reviewing evidence in the case, including classified information. That, they said, would amount to a violation of the former Air Force linguist’s Sixth Amendment right to confer with her attorneys.
But in a court papers filed this week, the prosecutors said she will be given access to the records she is entitled to see under the Classified Information Procedures Act and as required by due process. But her attorneys must ask the court for her to see such documents, the prosecutors said.
“The scope of classified discovery in this case has not yet been determined. It may include, for example, classified information to which the defendant has not previously had access,” the government said in its court filing. “Given the charge against the defendant, disclosing that information to her could further jeopardize national security. If defense counsel believe that they must disclose specific information provided in discovery to the defendant, that should be the subject of a subsequent motion.”
Winner’s attorneys are also seeking permission to quote from records already in the public domain, including newspaper articles. Prosecutors have pointed to case law that says disseminating classified information that has already been made public could harm government intelligence sources and operations. Further, Winner’s defense team is objecting to proposed requirements that they identify expert witnesses they ask to review classified evidence, saying that would amount to an unfair advantage for prosecutors.
“The government has a legitimate interest in knowing who is accessing classified information,” the prosecutors said. “The defense has not identified any prejudice that would result from disclosing experts’ identities to the government. Accordingly, the government should receive advance notice of all personnel for whom the defense seeks access to classified discovery and an opportunity to submit objections to the court if necessary.”