A senior adviser at Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN, pleaded guilty to conspiracy for leaking the Trump campaign’s confidential banking information to a reporter at BuzzFeed News.
Natalie Edwards, 41, entered the plea in a Manhattan federal court and could be sentenced to five years in prison. The plea deal she reached with prosecutors will keep her from serving little or no time behind bars.
Edwards leaked thousands of confidential banking records known as Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”). Banks must file those reports if they believe certain transactions raise questions about financial wrongdoing. The SARs were from records of various campaign officials under investigation, including Paul Manafort.
The SARs related to wire transfers made by Paul Manafort and other figures in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including campaign official Richard Gates, Maria Butina and the Russian Embassy.
As law enforcement swooped in, she was carrying a government-issued USB flash drive containing not only thousands of SARs, but also “highly sensitive material relating to Russia, Iran, and the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” prosecutors said.
“Edwards is not known to be involved in any official FinCEN project or task bearing these file titles or code names,” prosecutors said at the time.
Prosecutors say there were about a dozen articles in BuzzFeed over the past 18 months that were based on information in the SARs. Edwards apparently transmitted the documents via images taken by her cellphone and then texted using an encrypted application.
She was a very helpful source for the reporter.
Edwards additionally sent or described to the BuzzFeed News reporter internal government emails or correspondence related to the reports and investigative memos and intelligence assessments published by her agency’s intelligence division, prosecutors said.
When the judge asked her if she knew she was committing a crime, Edwards said she did not “know of the regulation” at the time but she knew about the federal Whistleblower Protection Act.
After consulting with her lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, she said she admitted that she agreed to disclose the SARs.
Prosecutors believe her motive was political.
Outside court, Agnifilo said the case illustrated how “one’s subjective motivations really do not serve as a defense.”
He said prosecutors were “probably of the view that she was more politically motivated than she was for some conception like the good of our republic.”
Agnifilo said his client believed “certain critical facts” weren’t being handled in the right way by the government agencies tasked with handling them.
Yes, just because you mean well doesn’t save you if you break the law — a fact that Julian Assange and Edward Snowden should take to heart. Assange and Snowden believe that because their motives for leaking were pure, they shouldn’t be prosecuted. They took it upon themselves to expose their idea of corruption in the arrogant belief that they had a corner on truth.
Edwards may have been motivated by nothing more than Trump-hatred. She had no high moral goals to satisfy. Hers was a partisan political act, not the actions of a “whistleblower.”