A former official of the US Treasury Department was sentenced to six months in prison on Thursday for leaking official documents to the media.
Last year, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, who was arrested in 2018, had pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. She admitted to leaking banking reports, including some related to people being investigated in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of foreign interference in the US elections.
US District judge Gregory H Woods called her actions “illegal and wrong” and said they “made our country less safe.”
The judge said it was “sad and perhaps ironic” that she went into public service because she was upset over the 11 September, 2001, terror attacks. He said she “came to believe disclosing America’s secrets would somehow be beneficial to our nation.”
Edwards’s lawyer Stephanie M Carvlin argued that she made her disclosures after concluding that people running the Treasury Department were, through wrongdoing, “creating a dangerous situation for the American people.”
“She wasn’t doing it for money... for personal glory. She wants to help the American people,” said Ms Carvlin.
Edwards had worked at multiple federal government agencies before serving as senior adviser to the head of the Intelligence Division at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau of the US Treasury Department responsible for safeguarding the US’s financial system.
According to prosecutors, during the course of time, she leaked over 2,000 confidential, suspicious activity reports and more than 50,000 documents in all. Banks are required to file suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department when they spot transactions that raise questions about possible financial misconduct such as money laundering.
The prosecutors had sought “serious punishment” for Edwards stating that she betrayed the public and risked hindering ongoing and future investigations.
According to the US government, the information leaked for more than a year included reports on Paul Manafort, former president Donald Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, along with a woman charged with trying to infiltrate US political organisations as a covert Russian agent.
While the prosecutors didn’t share the name of the reporter with whom Edwards shared the documents, the court documents identified him Buzzfeed reporter Jason Leopold, who was in the court on Thursday.
BuzzFeed and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published several stories on “The FinCEN Files” based on material obtained from Edwards where they examined regulatory failures in spotting and cracking down on international money laundering.
BuzzFeed spokesperson Matt Mittenthal called Edwards a ”brave whistleblower” in a statement, and said the news organisation “strongly condemns today’s sentence.”
“She fought to warn the public about grave risks to America’s national security, first through the official whistleblower process, and then through the press. She did so, despite tremendous personal risk, because she believed she owed it to the country she loves,” he said.
Additional reporting by agencies
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