When her mother told her that President Donald Trump had tweeted about her case, Reality Winner braced for the worst. After all, ever since her arrest for leaking a top-secret document, strangers on the internet have called her a traitor, mocked her name and gloated over her legal predicament.
But Trump didn’t gloat and he didn’t mock, at least not her. The day after a federal judge handed her a record-setting prison sentence, Winner heard her mother read the president’s words through a phone receiver at the Lincoln County jail, where she’s been incarcerated for more than a year.
“Gee, this is ‘small potatoes’ compared to what Hillary Clinton did!” Trump wrote in a multi-tweet diatribe against his appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “So unfair Jeff, Double Standard.”
Winner, in a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday, said she will ask Trump for clemency as a result of that tweet, finding out if the president meant what he wrote.
“I roared like a lion,” Winner said, describing her reaction to his post. “I dropped the phone and I sat on the floor and cried and said, ‘I want my family,’ over and over again.”
Winner said her legal team is already working on her pardon application. One of her attorneys, Titus Nichols, told the AJC last week that he had no plans to work on a clemency request. But he said Friday that he couldn’t comment, adding, “We’re all having a conversation in regard to how we’re going to move forward.”
As part of a plea deal, Winner received a sentence of five years and three months for mailing a report on Russian election meddling to The Intercept, an online publication. At the time, she was working as an analyst for a National Security Agency contractor at Fort Gordon in Augusta. Prosecutors said she copied the pages at work, folded them into her pantyhose, then walked them out of the building.
In her interview Friday, she expressed remorse for her actions, lamenting the toll her case has taken on her family, particularly her mother. Though wistful of the loss of her freedom, Winner hasn’t lost her dry sense of humor, beginning the interview by pulling a reporter’s chain.
“I prayed on it, and I just feel like I’m meant to offer our president to be the next White House press secretary,” she said in a joke that revealed her softening attitude toward a president who she once scorned on social media.
“I just feel like I would really get along with our president,” she said. “He’s about a year older than my late father would be. Both grew up in New York, and both are conservative. Both watch Fox News every day, or my father did until he passed. And we both like Diet Coke. It’s a match made in heaven.”
The two men — Trump and her late father — contributed to her “isolated” state of mind when she made her fateful decision to leak, Winner said. She’d been estranged from her father, who struggled with back injuries and an addiction to painkillers, then died just before Christmas.
Winner said she thought the November election so critical that she registered to vote for the first time, casting her ballot for Hillary Clinton. After Trump won, she called him names like “orange fascist” and “Tangerine in Chief” on Twitter, but she says now that she was more frustrated with the country’s two-party system, and how he exploited it to ride to victory.
Meanwhile, Winner lived as a near-social hermit in Augusta, with few friends, in “a place of grief,” she said. She spent her time chiseling her body through extreme weightlifting, fasting and teaching spin classes.
“I was very closed off. I was very shy,” Winner said. “I felt like nothing that an individual could do day-to-day mattered, and I was very naïve in that.”
Winner is awaiting transfer into the federal prison system. She has asked to be sent to Federal Medical Center Carswell near Fort Worth, Texas, where she would be closer to her family in Texas and could get treatment for bulimia.
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