Feds examining additional evidence in NSA leak probe

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Feds examining additional evidence in NSA leak probe

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HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Reality Leigh Winner leaving the federal courthouse in Augusta on June 8, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Authorities are analyzing an extensive amount of evidence gathered from the suspect in the National Security Agency leak investigation here, including a notebook from her workspace that contains handwriting in Farsi, federal prosecutors disclosed Tuesday. 

In addition to translating those notes, they are examining two computers, a tablet and four phones they seized from Reality Leigh Winner’s Augusta home. Additionally, they are studying a recorded interview she did with the FBI at her home as well as tapes of phone calls she made from the Lincoln County Jail. 

And without identifying the evidence or where they got it, the prosecutors disclosed in recent court papers that authorities have seized other classified information from Winner beyond what she allegedly revealed to the news media about Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election system. The prosecutors haven’t said why the information is classified or whether Winner was authorized to have access to it as part of her job.

“Classified material, including but not limited to the document which the defendant is charged with unlawfully retaining and transmitting, was collected as part of the underlying investigation,” the prosecutors said in court papers this month.

During a court hearing Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps introduced Carli Rodriguez-Feo, a “classified information security officer” who will help with any motions or orders connected to the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. That federal law is aimed at preventing “graymail,” or the practice in which defendants threaten to reveal classified information in an attempt to force prosecutors to drop the charges against them.  Further, Epps said federal officials are helping line up security clearances for him and the defense attorneys so they can look at the evidence and that they are also searching for a secure location to safeguard those records. 

Epps said the court is tentatively preparing to hold the trial on Oct. 23. He said he is sensitive to the fact that Winner – who has no criminal convictions – is being held in the Lincoln County Jail until her trial, saying he does not want the case delayed. 

“At first blush, it’s quite a simple case,” he said before noting that there is only one defendant and that she is facing a single charge. 

An Air Force veteran, Winner worked as a federal contractor at a U.S. government agency in Georgia between February and June and had a top-secret security clearance. A federal grand jury has indicted her on a single count of "willful retention and transmission of national defense information” for leaking to the news media a classified NSA report on Russia’s attempts to interfere with the U.S. election system. 

Winner faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines, plus up to three years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment. She has pleaded not guilty to the charge. 

The U.S. Justice Department announced Winner’s arrest this month, about an hour after The Intercept reported that it had obtained a top-secret NSA report about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The report says Russian military intelligence officials tried to hack into the U.S. voting system just before last November’s election. 

Before she was indicted, Winner spent months unleashing a tirade of social media posts calling President Donald Trump, among other things, an "orange fascist." She also wrote in a notebook seized by authorities that she wanted to “burn the White House down” and then flee overseas, according to federal prosecutors. 

In a court hearing on June 8, Assistant U.S. attorney Jennifer Solari argued against releasing Winner on bond, adding that prosecutors have not ruled out bringing additional charges against her. She could still do "exceptionally grave damage to national security,” which “could assist our foreign adversaries," Solari said. 

"We don't know how much more she knows or how much she remembers, " Solari told Epps. 

Epps ultimately denied Winner's release on bond. He referenced several statements prosecutors attributed to her, including one instance when she allegedly told her mother in a call from the jail, "Mom, those documents, I screwed up." And he cited a flash drive prosecutors say she improperly plugged into a top-secret computer -- in a sort of test run -- while she was still in the Air Force last year. 

"We don't know where that flash drive is today,” he said, “and that concerns me.”

Gary Davis and Billie Winner-Davis, stepfather and mother of Reality Leigh Winner, spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about their daughter. Video by Hyosub Shin/AJC
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