An Air Force veteran told FBI agents that she had leaked classified U.S. documents, but a legal technicality may prevent prosecutors from using the confession as evidence in her upcoming trial, the Associated Press reports.
Reality Winner, a 25-year-old former Air Force linguist, stands charged of copying a classified report and mailing it to a leak-friendly news site. Winner was working as a government contractor in Augusta, Georgia, when the leak occurred in early May. She held a top secret security clearance at the time.
Winner later admitted to a pair of FBI agents that she had leaked the documents, according to a criminal complaint filed June 5 in the U.S.’s Southern Georgia District Court. The two agents were executing a search warrant at Winner’s apartment when the confession was made.
“[Winner] admitted removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta, Georgia, to the news outlet, which she knew was not authorized to receive or possess the documents,” according to a Department of Justice statement released on June 5.
Winner’s defense attorneys are now asking a federal judge to suppress any comments she made during the interview because the agents never gave her a Miranda warning, which law enforcement officials must read to criminal suspects in custody. But Winner had not been formally arrested at that point.
However, according to the AP, in a court motion filed on Aug. 29, an attorney for Winner said that she believed she was under arrest as she was being questioned in her apartment, noting that the agents were standing in front of the door.
“Winner was never told she was free to leave, nor was she advised as to her arrest status,” Winner’s attorneys wrote. “Indeed, when she specifically asked whether she was under arrest, the agents told her they did not know the answer to that ‘yet.’”
As of Aug. 31, the judge had not yet ruled on the defense motion, nor had prosecutors filed a reply. But on Aug. 30, U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian K. Epps agreed to postpone Winner’s trial, which was due to begin in October. The case has now been rescheduled for March 2018.
According to the AP, Winner has pleaded not guilty to charges that she illegally retained and transmitted national defense information. And while authorities have not publicly discussed what that information was or to whom Winner transmitted it to, it seems fairly obvious.
The Intercept reported in May that it had obtained a classified National Security Agency report suggesting “Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election.”
The Intercept said the NSA report was dated May 5, which is the same date that appeared on the document Winner is charged with leaking.
Soon after Winner’s arrest, The Intercept announced that its parent company, First Look Media, had decided to provide independent support for her legal defense, and argued that the leak highlighted “vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system and [provided] vital context for the current debate over Russian interference in the election.”
Winner could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.