A Treasury Department employee has been charged with leaking to a reporter documents related to the special counsel’s probe into Russian election interference, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, 40, a senior adviser at the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, has been accused of “unlawfully disclosing” multiple Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, to a reporter. Such reports are issued by financial institutions and flag potentially illegal transactions.
The SARs that Edwards is accused of disclosing contained information related to several figures central to Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his longtime business partner Rick Gates and accused Russian spy Maria Butina, officials said.
The leaks allegedly began in October 2017 and had continued to the present. The criminal complaint did not name the news organization that had been in contact with Edwards, but referenced at least 12 BuzzFeed articles in which SARs were cited. The most recent article ― entitled “Here’s How A Major Western Bank Enabled A Suspected Russian Money Launderer” ― was published Monday. BuzzFeed hasn’t commented.
According to the complaint, Edwards saved copies of the SARs on a flash drive and had used an encrypted app to send photographs of the documents to the reporter.
“The majority of the files were saved to a folder on the flash drive entitled ‘Debacle — Operation-CF,’ and sub-folders bearing names such as ‘Debacle\Emails\Asshat’,” the complaint said. “Edwards is not known to be involved in any official ... project or task bearing these file titles or code names.”
Prosecutors said Edwards admitted to giving the SARs to the reporter, but identified herself as a “whistleblower” who shared the documents for “record keeping.” The Justice Department noted that Edwards filed an earlier, though unrelated, whistleblower complaint.
Edwards was charged with unauthorized disclosures of SARs and conspiracy. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
Edwards was released on $100,000 bond on Wednesday, The Washington Post reported. She is due to appear in court in New York next month.
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said Edwards had “betrayed her position of trust.”
“We hope today’s charges remind those in positions of trust within government agencies that the unlawful sharing of sensitive documents will not be tolerated and will be met with swift justice by this Office,” Berman said in a statement.
The Trump administration has been intensifying efforts to weed out government leakers. Leak probes in the Justice Department had ballooned 800 percent under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, The Daily Beast noted in November.
On Monday, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI in a separate leak investigation. James Wolfe admitted using an encrypted app to tell an unidentified reporter about a subpoena issued by the committee.