Despite the best efforts of her legal defense team, accused news media leaker Reality Winner will remain in jail until her trial on espionage charges next year, a federal judge in Augusta has ruled.
The decision by Judge J. Randal Hall, chief of the Southern District of Georgia, makes the 25-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran and NSA contract worker just the second person charged with illegally disclosing or retaining classified information in the past two decades to be denied bond while awaiting trial, according to legal briefs filed by a team of lawyers led by former U.S. attorney and Department of Homeland Security general counsel Joe Whitley.
Hall’s Nov. 27 ruling affirms an earlier decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps to deny Winner bail.
By contrast, Winner’s lawyers cited more than a dozen cases where defendants facing similar charges were granted a bond. Almost all of them, the defense argued, were longtime government employees who had “disclosed or retained far more classified information” than the one-page document Winner allegedly leaked to online news outlet The Intercept. Among them: Gen. David Petraeus, accused of sharing classified intelligence and the identities of covert officers with his mistress; former CIA officer John Kiriakou, accused of leaking the identity of colleagues involved in enhanced interrogation programs to a reporter; and Jeffrey Sterling, another former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information about the nation’s efforts to sabotage Iranian nuclear research to The New York Times.
The document Winner has been accused of leaking, a redacted version of which was published by The Intercept, detailed how deeply Russian hackers had penetrated state and local voting and election infrastructures across the country prior to the 2016 presidential election.
Winner has been incarcerated since her arrest this past June.
Hall was also unmoved by defense arguments that Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and former senior Trump aide and longtime Manafort associate Rick Gates have been detained under house arrest at their respective homes since they were indicted Oct. 30 on charges that they engaged in a conspiracy against the U.S., participated in a scheme to launder more than $18 million, failed to file bank financial reports, acted as unregistered foreign agents regarding their work for a pro-Russian government in Ukraine and lied to the federal government about their allegedly illicit activities.
“Manafort allegedly has three different passports with three different numbers, tens of millions of dollars in assets, and in the last year alone, traveled to Dubai, Cancun, Panama City, Havana, Shanghai, Madrid, Tokyo, and Grand Cayman Island,” Winner’s defense had argued in seeking her pretrial release. “Despite all of this, the government consented to the pretrial release of Manafort and Gates with electronic monitoring and movement restrictions, because the government recognized that the defendants are United States citizens with no criminal history.”
“The same is true of Ms. Winner.”
In his Nov. 27 order, Hall said that, although Winner had been charged with the transmission of a single document, it “does not mitigate the serious nature of the offense, especially given that the matter may affect national security.”
Winner, he said, “harps on the fact that she has only been charged with the disclosure of ‘one document, one time, to one recipient, with no allegations of financial gain.’ The Court finds this fact to be of little importance because it may reasonably be said that the government caught this defendant before any more damage could be done.”
Hall backed the magistrate judge’s finding that Winner “hates America, misused a top-secret computer during her Air Force career, admires Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, and began preparations to leak classified information from the very outset of her work as an NSA subcontractor.” Federal authorities have said that, while in the Air Force, Winner had, at one point, inserted a thumb drive into a computer, although her lawyers say the government has produced no evidence that she downloaded anything other than her resume.
Hall cited one conversation Winner had with her sister where she wrote, “Look, I only say I hate America like 3 times a day.”
Said Hall: “Hate is also an apt word to describe a person’s emotion that noted she would like to burn the White House down,” a reference to another exchange the sisters shared. “And while defendant, through the testimony of her sister, would pass this off as ‘hyperbole’, the conclusion that defendant hates America is justifiable.”’
Hall also cited evidence that Winner researched ways to send information to news outlets anonymously and searched online for airline flights to Kurdistan and Erbil and for information about work visas in Afghanistan. Those searches and a three-day vacation in Belize shortly before Winner was arrested suggest “a strong intent to live and work abroad,” the judge said, adding that Winner also “has demonstrated an interest in matters of the Taliban. Winner, he noted, is fluent in Farsi, Dari and Pashto—all languages she learned while in the Air Force.
“Given the uncertainty with respect to Defendant’s level of knowledge or possession of classified information, together with evidence that she planned to anonymously release information to online news outlets and that she has antipathy toward the United States,” Hall concluded, “the Court finds that releasing defendant prior to trial would pose a danger to the community, particularly to the national security.”