The presiding judge overseeing the prosecution of a U.S. Air Force veteran accused of leaking information about Russian hacks of state election systems has issued an order threatening lawyers with contempt if they talk publicly about the case.
Randal Hall, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in Augusta, issued the order June 7 on his own motion. In it, he warned “all present and prospective attorneys” that no violations will be tolerated of a local rule largely barring attorneys’ public comment in ongoing criminal cases. Violation of the rule, Hall wrote, “may result in contempt proceedings or other measures.”
Winner’s trial is scheduled for October.
The FBI arrested Winner on June 3, 2017, at her Augusta home. Winner, who worked for a National Security Agency contractor at the time, was charged under the federal espionage statute with leaking a classified document to The Intercept, an online media outlet. She has been jailed without bond ever since.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions identified the case as the Trump administration’s first leak prosecution, and prosecutors have successfully argued to deny her bail as a security risk.
The document in question, published with redactions, detailed how Russian hackers attempted to penetrate state voting systems in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election via a spear-phishing campaign.
Hall issued his warning less than 24 hours after a billboard was erected in Augusta in support of Winner. Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, said she doesn’t know who paid for the billboard.
It says: “Veteran Reality Winner, jailed one year, no bail, no trial, for exposing threats to U.S. elections? #Justice4Reality.”
Hall’s order also comes on the heels of a June 3 candlelight vigil by Winner’s family, friends and supporters at a county jail in Lincolnton, east of Augusta, where Winner has been held.
The June 3 order is not the first barring the lawyers from speaking publicly. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps issued a sweeping protective order last year that sealed a number of court pleadings—and some hearings—that included references to materials the government claims are classified. That secrecy extended to information attorneys were not sure was classified or had reason to believe might be derived from or reference classified information, even published news reports and other public sources.
Anyone who violates the order faces criminal prosecution.
Epps’ order also covered any information, including verbal communications, from foreign governments or a U.S. intelligence agency “that could reasonably be believed to contain classified information.”
Winner’s defense team had to receive security clearances from the federal government before they could review many of the documents associated with her prosecution. Any consultants or defense experts also must obtain approval from a government classification specialist before being given access to classified materials.
Defense lawyers—who work in Atlanta, Augusta, Nashville and New Orleans—may only review or discuss protected materials in a single designated secure area in Augusta.
Epps also barred defense counsel from making private or public statements that “would reveal personal knowledge from nonpublic sources regarding the classified status of the information” or that would reveal that they “had personal access to classified information confirming, contradicting or otherwise relating to information already in the public domain.”
On Friday, Winner-Davis told The Daily Report that she finds Hall’s order muzzling lawyers frightening.
“I am outraged, and I am angry, and I am scared,” she said. “This is really a stern warning to the attorneys. It’s almost like he [the judge] is threatening everybody. And I don’t know if I am included in that.”
“I can’t help but think it’s in response to what we have been doing,” Winner-Davis continued. “I think he is retaliating against us, and he is threatening the attorneys and making it known they don’t like this publicity. … This is not how things are supposed to operate in America.”
“To my knowledge, the attorneys haven’t done anything,” she added. “I certainly haven’t seen where the attorneys have spoken out about her and her case.”
Winner-Davis said her daughter’s attorneys were not present at the candlelight vigil, which was held in the jail parking lot with permission of the sheriff. Winner-Davis said she had prearranged for her daughter—who did not know about the vigil beforehand—to call from the jail. She said the cellphone was passed around to attendees, including Reality’s sister.
“The American people,” Winner-Davis said, “deserve to know what’s going on in Reality’s case.”
Read the order: