Former prosecutors join accused NSA leaker’s legal defense team

12:20 p.m Monday, July 24, 2017 Local
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Reality Leigh Winner, who worked as a contractor for Pluribus International Corp., was charged with leaking a top secret National Security Agency report to the web site the Intercept.

A former top U.S. Justice Department official and a former federal prosecutor have joined Reality Winner’s legal defense team in the National Security Agency leak investigation.

Joe Whitley, who served as the acting associate U.S. attorney general during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, is a partner with the Atlanta law firm of Baker Donelson. He also worked as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s general counsel and served as a federal prosecutor in Georgia. Joining Whitley is Matthew Chester, a former assistant U.S. attorney who works for the same law firm in New Orleans. 

They are teaming up with John Bell and Titus Nichols of Bell & Brigham in Augusta. The attorneys joined the case after First Look Media, the parent company of The Intercept online news outlet, announced this month that it would help Winner’s legal defense. First Look said its Press Freedom Defense Fund would provide $50,000 in matching funds to Stand With Reality, a nonprofit campaign to support Winner’s case through advocacy and fundraising. 

RELATED: Owner of The Intercept assisting accused NSA leaker’s legal defense

The U.S. Justice Department has accused Winner of leaking to The Intercept 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. 

Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, released a statement to Stand With Reality about the new attorneys joining her daughter’s defense team. 

“I am very excited about Mr. Whitley joining Reality’s defense team,” she said, “as he appears to have extensive experience. His background with homeland security should be helpful.”

Gary Davis, stepfather of Reality Leigh Winner, says the depiction of Winner through social media is not an “an accurate portrayal of my daughter." Winner, who lives in Augusta, Ga., is accused of leaking national security information on Russia hac