Thursday, October 18, 2018

Treasury official arrested for stealing, leaking confidential bank reports on Trump officials

A government leaker who worked at the top of the Treasury Department was charged on Wednesday with stealing confidential bank reports about former Trump officials and sending them to a reporter. 

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards was caught red-handed on Tuesday night with a flash drive in her hands that contained stolen information about Trump associates that have been targeted in the Russia investigation, Fox News reported.

Anti-Trump leaker charged

Edwards was placed on leave from the department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), where she illegally disclosed bank reports called Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) starting in October 2017. Banks are required to make the reports, which note suspicious financial transactions and must stay confidential by law.

But Edwards saved thousands of SARs onto a government flash drive and snapped photos of them, which she texted to an unnamed journalist using an encrypted application. The records pertained to Trump officials targeted in the Russia investigation, including campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign official Rick Gates, as well as Russian spy Maria Butina and the Russian embassy.

The leaks reportedly made it into a dozen BuzzFeed articles, published as recently as Monday, with titles like: “These 13 Wire Transfers Are A Focus of the FBI Probe Into Paul Manafort.” In interviews with the FBI, Edwards initially denied any contact with the press, saying she was a whistle-blower, but later confessed to leaking the records to reporters.

Records of her communications with the unnamed journalist were found on her phone after her arrest, which also snagged the government flash drive containing the stolen reports. She also leaked Treasury Department emails and other internal documents.

Edwards had at least one unnamed, higher-ranking accomplice, who she reported to at FinCEN. The person, who was not charged, texted the reporter 300 times.

Crackdown on leakers

Edwards is the first government leaker to be prosecuted for disclosing confidential information about Trump officials being targeted by Robert Mueller’s investigation, Fox noted. President Trump has often complained about leakers in the federal government, who he called “cowards” earlier this year.

Trump has charged his Justice Department with cracking down on these leakers, who have been a reliable source of stories of scandal and intrigue to the press. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has promised to bring the pressure, telling the Washington Times: “When I came, there were three open leak investigations. We raised that to 27 in the first year.”

Edwards’ arrest comes after former Senate staffer James Wolfe pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of lying to investigators about his contacts with the press, including one reporter who he dated who now works for the New York Times, although he was not accused of any leaks. Former FBI agent Terry Albury is also facing a sentence this week for leaking information to the Intercept about alleged racial bias in the bureau’s counter-terrorism efforts.

Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said Edwards “betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information.”

Edwards was released from court on $100,000 bond on Wednesday and placed in the custody of her parents. She was charged with unlawful disclosure and one for conspiring to unlawfully disclose; each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine.

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