A former senior advisor at the Treasury Department pleaded guilty on Monday for leaking confidential banking records related to members of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Fox News reported that prosecutors believed 41-year-old Natalie Edwards began obtaining the sensitive information in October 2017 and continued for one year. She would send the information she received to a BuzzFeed News reporter. The outlet published multiple articles based on the leaked information.
“Edwards was a senior adviser at Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN. Prosecutors said her crime began in October 2017 and continued for a year, with Edwards sending a BuzzFeed News reporter numerous Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”). Banks must file SARs with the Treasury Department when they spot transactions raising questions about possible financial misconduct such as money laundering, but federal law strictly limited their disclosure,” Fox reported. “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.”
When she was arrested in October 2018 “she was carrying a government-issued USB flash drive containing not only thousands of SARs,” the outlet reported. She also had on that USB “highly sensitive material relating to Russia, Iran, and the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL, otherwise known as ISIS],” prosecutors said, according to Fox.
Prosecutors said it did not appear as though Edwards had any legitimate job-related reason to have that information, as she was “not known to be involved in any official FinCEN project or task bearing these file titles or code names.”
Edwards apologized to the court, saying, “I am sorry for what I have done and I apologize to you, your honor, and the court.”
Edwards faced up to five years in prison for the charge of conspiracy for leaking the bank records, but her plea deal will result in a sentence of zero to six months in prison.
“She transmitted the SARs to the reporter by ‘taking photographs of them and texting the photographs’ using an encrypted application, according to charging documents, which showed that Edwards eventually confessed to doing so. FBI agents obtained a pen register and trap-and-trace order for Edwards’ cellphone during their investigation,” Fox reported.
Her defense argued that Edwards didn’t think the government was properly handling the information she uncovered and decided to go to the media with it instead.
“She said: ‘You know, if I can’t trust government officials to handle this, I think I can trust the media to handle this and to bring this to the attention of the American people,’” said her attorney, Marc Agnifilo.
Agnifilo also claimed prosecutors were “probably of the view that she was more politically motivated than she was for some conception like the good of our republic.”
Most of the information Edwards obtained did not result in charges against the people she targeted. Her information did provide media fodder to use against Trump and his associates, however.