Former Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) senior official Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards faces up to five years in prison after she pleaded guilty on Jan. 13 to conspiring to illegally leak documents to a journalist.
Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York tentatively outlined a zero-to-six-month sentence and a fine of up to $9,500 as part of the plea deal (pdf) signed by Edwards on Jan. 13. The crime she pleaded guilty to carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Between October 2017 and October 2018, Edwards illegally leaked suspicious activity reports (SARs) on financial transactions by former Trump-campaign associates Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, the Russian Embassy, and Maria Butina, among others.
The Department of Justice didn’t identify the news organization that published stories based on the leaks, but a review of court documents and published articles points to BuzzFeed News.
In court documents, prosecutors didn’t designate anyone as a co-conspirator. The count (pdf) Edwards pleaded guilty to singled out a reporter as well as a senior official at FinCEN. Edwards called the senior official “Enigma”; she had sought to connect him or her with the reporter.
Edwards had access to the SARs on Manafort, Gates, and others, and she saved thousands of reports on a flash drive issued by FinCEN, according to a press release issued by the Department of Justice. She relayed the information in the reports to a journalist by taking pictures of the documents with a smartphone and sending the photos via an encrypted messaging application.
Edwards had the flash drive and the phone in her possession when she was arrested in October 2018. During an initial questioning, she denied having any contact with the media, but eventually admitted to communicating with the reporter, including during two in-person meetings.
In addition to the SARs, Edwards sent or described to the reporter “internal FinCEN emails or correspondence appearing to relate to SARs,” investigative memos and intelligence assessments that “contained confidential personal information, business information, and/or security threat assessments,” the press release states.
Edwards is scheduled to be sentenced on June 9, 2020.
She’s one of a handful of leakers to be prosecuted during the Trump administration.
On Oct. 16, 2018, two days after Edwards’ arrest, former security director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, James Wolfe, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters.
On Oct. 18, 2018, two days after Wolfe’s guilty plea, a federal judge sentenced former FBI special agent Terry Albury to four years in prison for leaking classified documents to a reporter.
In August 2019, IRS analyst John Fry pleaded guilty to leaking sensitive financial documents about Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney.
In the four months following Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, the White House was subject to 125 leaked stories, according to a report (pdf) by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The rate of leaks with the capacity to damage national security was seven times higher than during comparable periods in the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.