Accused NSA leaker’s attorneys push back against proposed secrecy rules for trial

Reality Leigh Winner leaves the federal courthouse in Augusta after her bond hearing on June 8. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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Reality Leigh Winner leaves the federal courthouse in Augusta after her bond hearing on June 8. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The Augusta suspect in the National Security Agency leak investigation could be blocked from getting a fair trial under the rules prosecutors are proposing to safeguard top-secret information in the case, her defense attorneys argued in court papers filed Thursday.

In their 14-page brief, Reality Leigh Winner’s attorneys said the proposed protective order could prevent her from reviewing evidence in the case, including classified information. That, they said, would amount to a violation of the former Air Force linguist’s Sixth Amendment right to confer with her attorneys.

They are also objecting to proposed requirements that they identify expert witnesses they ask to review such evidence, saying that would amount to an unfair advantage for prosecutors. And they are seeking permission to quote from records already in the public domain, including newspaper articles. Prosecutors have argued that classified information doesn’t automatically become declassified once it appears in public.

The U.S. Justice Department has accused Winner of leaking to The Intercept a top-secret NSA report about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The Intercept published the report, which says Russian military intelligence officials tried to hack into the U.S. voting system just before last November’s election.

A federal grand jury has indicted Winner, 25, on a single count of "willful retention and transmission of national defense information.” She faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Winner, who is being held in the Lincoln County Jail, has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

“It should be noted that Ms. Winner has had a top-secret clearance for a number of years,” her defense attorneys, John Bell and Titus Nichols, said in their court filing Thursday. “Moreover, Ms. Winner is in jail. Her telephone calls are taped, and all of her outgoing mail is being reviewed by government agents. There is no risk to national security that could flow from her being allowed to view the evidence that may be used against her and to consult with her counsel about the evidence.”

Owner of The Intercept assisting accused NSA leaker’s legal defense

James Durham, acting U.S. attorney for the South District of Georgia, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. But the proposed protective order fellow prosecutors filed last week indicates the court could grant permission for other people to review classified information in the case.

Further, 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. But they haven’t identified those records, said where they got them or explained why the information is classified or whether Winner was authorized to access it as part of her job.

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In a June 8 court hearing, Assistant U.S. attorney Jennifer Solari argued against releasing Winner on bond, saying Winner had researched technology that could be used to cover her digital tracks and that she could still do "exceptionally grave damage to national security,” which “could assist our foreign adversaries.”

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

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