After pleading guilty in June to leaking classified information that she hoped would “set the record straight” on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, former National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner was sentenced Thursday to just over five years in prison.
Winner, who openly expressed disdain for “orange fascist” President Trump, is the first government employee prosecuted by the Trump administration for leaking classified information. The former Air Force linguist told a judge in June that she leaked a classified report on a Russian military intelligence cyberattack “willfully” while working as a contractor for the NSA in Augusta, Georgia in 2017.
Winner, 26, leaked the document to The Intercept for a report which ultimately led investigators back to the source. She was arrested in June 2017 after The Intercept reporter provided a photocopy of the original document to the FBI that made clear to investigators that she had printed the document. Investigators found that only six people had printed that document and soon discovered that Winner had been in contact with the outlet via a desktop computer.
Her potential sentence of 10 years in prison was cut in half to 63 months after she agreed to a plea deal.
“I had no intention to harm national security,” Winner told the court Thursday, CNN reports. When she pleaded guilty in June, her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, said her daughter wanted the world to know that “she does love her country, and she is a patriot.”
Winner was denied bail, however, in part because of evidence that she held radical beliefs and potentially dangerous intentions. Among the evidence suggesting she was a flight risk was her “fascination with the Middle East and Islamic terrorism” and a comment she made about wanting to “burn the White House down.”
As CNN notes, “Winner’s actions raised questions about whether the leak was politically motivated.”
She had previously criticized President Donald Trump on social media. When it became clear that Trump would win on election night in November 2016, she posted, “Well. People suck. #ElectionNight.” She once called Trump an “orange fascist.”
And while Winner didn’t explicitly post about hacking or leaking, she followed Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks on Twitter, where she used an account with a pseudonym, but used a photo of herself as the profile picture.
Winner was also famously overheard boasting during a phone call from jail that she’d be able to manipulate the court because she is “pretty, white and cute” and saying she’d “instructed family members to transfer $30,000 into her mother’s account so she’d appear poor enough for a court-appointed attorney,” WSB-TV reported.