NSA leaker Reality Winner pleads guilty, could get 5 years in jail

She leaked a classified report about Russian election meddling.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
2 min read
The seal of the NSA shown on a computer screen at an official facility

Reality Winner was charged in June 2017 for releasing a classified NSA document.

Paul J. Richards/Getty Images

Former NSA contractor Reality Winner, the first person prosecuted by the Trump administration for leaking sensitive government information, pleaded guilty Tuesday in a deal with prosecutors that calls for a sentence of more than five years.

Winner was charged in June 2017 for releasing a classified National Security Agency report to news outlet The Intercept. The report detailed how Russian hackers had tried to compromise US election officials less than two weeks before the 2016 presidential vote.

At a federal courthouse in Augusta, Georgia, on Tuesday, Winner entered a guilty plea for espionage, The New York Times reported. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of 63 months in prison and three years of supervised release, an unusually harsh sentence in a leak case, the Times reported. A judge must still approve the sentence.

The Justice Department didn't respond to a request for comment.

"Reality Winner has taken this matter seriously, and has made a very difficult decision that will no doubt impact the rest of her life.  Obviously, her final sentencing is still pending, and she has a number of conditions and restrictions in her plea agreement that she is committed to honoring," said Joe Whitley, Winner's main lawyer, in an email statement. "However, Reality wishes to thank the numerous individuals and organizations who have supported her through this process."

Winner, 26, has been in jail for a year since investigators tracked her down by tracing the printer she used to print out the classified report before mailing it to The Intercept.

Prosecutor Jennifer Solari said at a detention hearing last year that Winner was "mad about some things she had seen in the media, and she wanted to set the facts right," the Times reported then.

Winner is the second person known to have reached a plea agreement with the Trump administration in a leak-related case, reported the Times. The Justice Department has also charged at least two other people for leaks under this administration

First published June 26, 11:10 a.m. PT.
Update, 11:44 a.m.: Adds information about other leak prosecutions under the Trump administration.

Update, June 27, 8:17 a.m. PT: Adds Reality Winner's main lawyer Joe Whitley statement.

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