The first government employee prosecuted by the Trump administration for the leaking of classified information has just learned her fate: she’ll serve 63 months in prison after pleading guilty to leaking classified information related to Russian hacking attempts during the 2016 election.
Reality Winner, a former Air Force linguist, was a contractor with the National Security Agency in Augusta, Georgia when she leaked a classified report to a journalist for The Intercept as part of her attempt to expose alleged Russian election meddling and “set the facts straight.” She was arrested in June after The Intercept reporter carelessly exposed her by providing a photocopy of the original document to the FBI, which contained clues leading back to Winner.
Winner, 26, was denied bail in part because she had demonstrated enough radical beliefs and intentions, including writing that she wanted to “burn the White House down” and demonstrating a “fascination with the Middle East and Islamic terrorism,” that authorities believed she was a flight risk.
Prosecutors also produced evidence that she had boasted to her sister during a phone call from jail that she would be able to easily play the court because, “I’m pretty, white and cute,” and that she “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.
On Tuesday, Winner pleaded guilty in Federal District Court in Augusta to one felony count for illegally sharing classified information.
“All of my actions I did willfully, meaning I did so of my own free will,” she said in court Tuesday, The New York Times reports.
Despite her clear attempts to undermine the U.S. government and her apparent embrace of radical ideas, Winner insists she is a “patriot.”
“She said she wants the world to know that she does love her country, and she is a patriot,” Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t want her to go down in history as a traitor to her country.”
“They’re just coming down on her so tough. I can only think that it’s because she was the very first one: the one they wanted to make an example out of, the one they wanted to nail to the door as a message to others,” said Winner-Davis.
Though she protested the “outdated” Espionage Act that has ensnared her daughter, Winner-Davis said Reality “wouldn’t have made this decision if she wasn’t ready to accept the consequences and to accept responsibility.”