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Reality Winner pleads guilty in NSA leak case

AUGUSTA - Reality Winner, the first person to be prosecuted by the Trump administration for leaking sensitive government information, pleaded guilty Tuesday to sending to the news media a top-secret National Security Agency report about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Her plea agreement calls for her to serve five years and three months behind bars, though she will be sentenced at a later date.

“All of these actions I did willfully, meaning I did them of my own free will,” she told the court.

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The Intercept, an online publication that specializes in national security coverage, published an article based on the report, saying Russian military intelligence sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials and launched a cyberattack against a Florida-based voting software supplier that contracts in eight states.

Winner’s supporters have hailed her as a patriot, while her critics have blasted her as a naïve and reckless leaker whose actions could deter others carrying more explosive government information.

The government prosecuted the 26-year-old former Air Force linguist under the Espionage Act. She has been held in jail outside of Augusta without bond for more than a year. Her trial was scheduled to begin Oct. 15.

Last week, her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, speculated the Espionage Act was too difficult to fight. A World War I-era law aimed at spies, it does not take into account whether leaks are done in the public interest or whether they damage national security.

Winner also suffered a series of courtroom defeats in rulings handed down by U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Brian Epps. The judge, for example, rejected all but one of her attorneys’ 41 requests to subpoena the White House and numerous states and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CIA and the National Security Council, for classified information.

Meanwhile, Winner’s health suffered in the Lincoln County Jail, where she was attacked by another detainee, according to her family. She also injured her knee in a fall while being transported for a court hearing, landing face-first while shackled and handcuffed.

“What we can do now for Reality Winner is ask that the court consider her actions and service to her country and community as her punishment and sentence is determined,” her mother said on Twitter this week.

In a letter to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year, Winner called her unsuccessful attempt to get out of jail on bond "a new low in my life."

"There are no words," Winner said, "to describe how it felt to have a government prosecutor say to the world that I was ... I don't even know, a jihad sympathizer? I can't even spell that right, ha."

Billie Winner-Davis addresses reporters after her daughter's guilty plea. Photo: Jeremy Redmon

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