Reality Winner, jailed for leaking classified report, calls case against Trump ‘incredibly ironic’

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KINGSVILLE, Texas — Reality Winner, a former intelligence contractor who served more than four years in prison for leaking a classified report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, says she finds the allegations according to which former President Donald Trump allegedly mishandled secret government documents as an “incredibly ironic situation” given that it was his administration that sought to aggressively pursue her.

But on whether Trump should be charged under the Espionage Act or be punished the way she did, Winner told NBC News she doesn’t think he should go to jail on the basis of the evidence made public so far.

“What I did when I broke the law was a political act in a very politically charged time,” Winner, 30, said from his home near Corpus Christi, Texas.

She added that it “isn’t hard to believe” that Trump may have had a cache of classified documents stored at his Mar-a-Lago estate, while the Justice Department is currently investigating.

“It’s incredibly ironic, and I would just let the Justice Department deal with it,” she said.

Her more restrained view of the former president, whose administration has taken a hard line on prosecuting those accused of national security leaks, comes nearly 15 months since she was released from prison in June. 2021 in a halfway house due to his good behavior. Winner was sentenced in 2018 to more than five years on a single count of transmitting national security information — then the longest federal prison sentence handed down for leaking to the media.

Winner of reality.BNC News

Winner was working for national security contractor Pluribus International in Fort Gordon, Georgia when prosecutors said she smuggled a classified report out of her pantyhose detailing Russian government efforts to break into a voting software provider based in Florida before the 2016 presidential election. This information was later reported by the media The Intercept.

Winner said she was motivated to act believing the American public was not getting the whole truth.

When Trump was still in office, Winner’s attorneys sought to have his sentence commuted. He had tweeted that his punishment was “so unfair” and was “‘small potatoes’ compared to what Hillary Clinton did”, referring to a federal investigation into his use of a private email server then. that she was secretary of state. (In 2016, the FBI finally determined that Clinton had committed no crime in his handling of classified information.)

The winner said she was on probation until November 2024 and was banned from leaving South Texas, had to observe a nighttime curfew and report any interactions with the media.

She says her experience inside and outside prison has made her reflect on her actions. On the one hand, she thinks she was a scapegoat, citing how Trump’s FBI Director James Comey recalled in a memo that he told the president “of the value of putting a head on a pike. as a message” to leaks of classified information. Prosecutors at the time also attempted to paint Winner as someone who may have been susceptible to anti-American sentiments after they said they found handwritten notes in her home, including one that said, “I want to burn down the White House.”

“I was a very introspective person,” Winner said. “I wrote down my thoughts. I wouldn’t act on my thoughts and read them later and laugh about them.”

But Winner also admits she broke the law and said she wouldn’t do what she did again. Instead, she said, she would have gone through the “appropriate channels” to raise her concerns as a whistleblower.

“I have apologized and am currently serving this sentence. However, I have been treated very harshly and I do not wish this on anyone,” she said, adding, “When we see this investigation continue and the warrant search performed outside the former president’s home or his estate is a lot of speculation, and I would sit back and let the Justice Department do what it has to do.”

Winner said she considers enforcement of the espionage law to be inconsistent and vague, and that it leaves too much leeway to the relevant federal district to determine whether “national defense information” is actually compromised.

Derek Bambauer, a University of Arizona law professor specializing in intellectual property, agreed that the First World War law was “badly in need of updating”.

“The problem is that the current rather broad language gives far too much discretion to prosecutors,” he said.

The law, he added, should be clearer on what is considered prohibited conduct while incorporating free speech guarantees for those engaged in whistleblowing activities.

“There is clearly an important difference between showing a redacted version of a document or an assessment of a situation to a journalist or a lawyer and selling technical details of, say, underwater propulsion systems to a country stranger,” Bambauer said.

The law also does not require a document to be technically considered “classified” to fall within its scope – the information must only relate to national defense and be retained or disclosed without authorization.

In July, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Rep. Ro Khanna of California, and Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky reintroduced a bill under the Espionage Act to reaffirm First Amendment protections. for journalists who publish classified information provided by whistleblowers.

Some of the recent high-profile cases of Espionage Act violations have involved people accused of leaking information, not spying, which Winner cites as examples of why she says the law is “flawed. “.

Since her release from prison, Winner said, she has worked on her mental and spiritual health, become a CrossFit coach and advocates for the transformation of the prison system so that prison is not the default rule for those who commit crimes. For a person of power, like a former president, the ability to house them safely in prison becomes particularly tricky, she added.

“This is not a case where I expect to see jail time,” Winner said of the charges involving Trump, “and that’s fine with me.”

Gabe Gutierrez and Kayla McCormick reported from Kingsville, and Erik Ortiz from New York.

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