District Court judge Gregory Woods complied with the prosecution’s request that Edwards be given at least six months in prison. “A reasonable judgment is required to respond to the crime,” Woods said, repeating similar language from the prosecutor.
Edwards’ defense attorney Stephanie Carvlin had requested a sentence – apparently in relation to the day Edwards spent in custody after being arrested in Virginia in 2018.
Edwards pleaded guilty last year Conspire to violate the Banking Secrecy Act by disclosing more than 2,000 “reports of suspicious activity” or reports that banks and other financial institutions confidential to the Treasury Department for which Edwards worked, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN.
“The colossal mammoth effect of the crime of this defendant is unprecedented in the history of FinCEN,” said US assistant prosecutor Kimberly Ravener in court. “You have a person who acted indiscriminately to reveal confidential government information.”
Edwards made a largely unrepentant eight-minute statement to the court saying she could not “look aimlessly” given the wrongdoing she saw at the Treasury Department. She also suggested that FBI agents were violating their rights by questioning her after asking for a lawyer.
Only at the very end of her testimony did she make a brief remorse. “I understand and accept that a lot of information has been made available to the public. I apologize for that, Your Honor, ”she said.
Edwards spoke in a strong voice, reading from notes while she stood at the defense table, and opened her statement with a discussion of her Native American roots. “I am an indigenous matriarch whose spirit cannot be broken,” she said.
Edwards ‘attorney Stephanie Carvlin said Edwards had turned two problematic situations on their heads: the fact that Treasury officials had been unable to access other agencies’ intelligence information for a period due to a system problem, and that a Treasury Department improperly handled intelligence information about U.S. citizens and residents.
Carvlin insisted that her client only contact the media as a last resort after complaining through a number of internal channels. “She didn’t start this path by going to the press,” said the defense attorney.
Ravener poked fun at the defense’s suggestion that Edwards’ extensive disclosures to BuzzFeed were an extension of a whistleblowing effort.
“That is completely nonsensical. It’s a post hoc rationalization, ”said the prosecutor. “Nothing about these claims would be resolved, treated, or exposed by the release of thousands of SARs … There is simply no convincing link between your whistleblowing and this crime.”
In the end, Woods sided with prosecutors, dismissing the argument that Edwards repeated disclosures to BuzzFeed were part of an effort she made to whistle what she viewed as illegality and inefficiency at FinCEN.
“Whistling the whistle is an incredibly important exercise,” said the judge before declaring that the confidential information Edwards released was “unrelated” to her complaints about FinCEN. The reports, which Edwards forwarded to BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold between 2017 and 2018, included information about former Trump election chairman Paul Manafort, his associate Rick Gates, the Russian embassy, and Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist who admitted she was an agent for the Kremlin and received an 18-month prison sentence.
“We’re not here because Dr. Sours Edwards blew the whistle, ”added Woods, an appointee for former President Barack Obama. “We’re here because at some point Dr. Sours Edwards decided to abuse your trust.”
On several occasions, Edwards conducted searches of FinCEN’s databases at Leopold’s request, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Edwards had sent Leopold more than 50,000 documents in total via an encrypted motion identified as WhatsApp in a defense motion. The reports formed the basis of various BuzzFeed stories, including a series the outlet released last year, the FinCEN files.
Carvlin suggested that Leopold’s urging led Edwards to divulge information she would not have voluntarily provided, and even claimed that if he did not agree with reports released by other news organizations, he could be fired.
“He increased the pressure,” said the defender. “I mean, he was good at his job.”
Although it was not mentioned by Carvlin or others who spoke at the hearing, Leopold sat quietly in the back of the courtroom during the almost two-hour pronouncement of the verdict. He declined to speak to POLITICO when he left the courthouse and said BuzzFeed would issue a statement on the development.
Later on Thursday, BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal condemned Edwards’ verdict while first admitting that she served as a confidential source for the news agency.
“Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards is a courageous whistleblower. She fought to warn the public of grave risks to America’s national security, first through the official whistleblower process and then through the press. She did so despite an enormous personal risk, because she believed that she owed it to her beloved country, “said Mittenthal.
“Thanks to the courage of Ms. Edwards, BuzzFeed News and the 108 media organizations of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists were able to publish the FinCEN files that uncovered financial corruption on a global scale. This investigation has contributed to major reforms and legal action in the United States, the EU and countries around the world. BuzzFeed News has not recognized Ms. Edwards’ role in the project to this day after the judge sentenced her and gave Edwards himself permission to acknowledge that she provided activity reports to the suspects, “added Mittenthal.” BuzzFeed News supports whistleblowers and strongly condemns today’s conviction of Ms. Edwards. “
During the delivery of the verdict, Carvlin asked the judge to Consider the positive aspects of the debate sparked by the publication of the bank reports, including a legislative congress passed in December calling on companies to report their real property rights to the Treasury Department.
“I’m not saying that Dr. Edwards deserves credit for that, Judge, ”said the attorney. “When we look at the horrors that could result from it, the bad, we should also look at the benefits that come from what she did.”
Edwards was senior advisor to the Treasury Department’s chief financial crime intelligence officer and made over $ 160,000 a year, Ravener said.
Parole officers recommended Edwards to a two-year suspended sentence.
Edwards’ conviction, delayed by nearly a year due to the coronavirus outbreak and decision to switch attorneys, comes amid a re-examination of Justice Department guidelines on leaked cases.
The sentencing date came at the end of a series of Justice Department revelations about leak detection tactics that sparked criticism from journalists, freedom of the press and even President Joe Biden.
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement Wednesday evening that four Times reporters were formally notified earlier in the day that their records from a period in 2017 were in what he called “a criminal investigation into the unauthorized Disclosure of classified information ”. ”
“The journalists were neither the subject nor the target of the investigation,” said Coley. He suggested that, as in other cases of this type, investigators managed to get at least some of the phone recordings requested, but not the details of who the reporters were emailing with during the period in question.
The New York Times editor-in-chief Dean Baquet said in a statement that he was troubled by the episode.
“The seizure of journalists’ phone records is deeply undermining the freedom of the press. It threatens to silence the sources we rely on to provide the public with essential information about the government’s actions, ”Baquet said.
“We expect the Justice Department to explain why this action was taken and what steps are being taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future.”
Last month, the Justice Department sent similar notifications to reporters for the Washington Post and CNN that their communications records were secretly obtained during leak investigations. Officials said the court orders for phone call recordings and email metadata were obtained during the Trump administration, although formal notices of the inquiries came out only a few weeks ago.
Biden has reacted angrily to reports that investigators were attempting to comb through details of journalists’ phone and email traffic and vowed that similar tactics are not being used in his administration.
“Absolutely, positively, it’s wrong. It’s just, just wrong, ”Biden told reporters at the White House last month. “I won’t allow that.”
Justice Department officials have not said whether they plan to change the longstanding DOJ regulations, revised during the Obama administration, which allow such searches in limited circumstances after other investigative opportunities have been exhausted. Some former officials said it would be unwise to completely exclude the collection of records from journalists as it could make prosecution impossible in some cases.
Coley said officials plan to meet with journalists and First Amendment attorneys to hear suggestions about the process. He added Thursday that the disclosure to the Times completes the necessary guidance on Trump-era searches.
It is unclear whether investigators searched Leopold’s phone or email records as part of their investigation into the leaks from FinCEN. Edwards was charged not with classified information, but with conspiracy against another law: the Banking Secrecy Act. In court records, prosecutors also accused Edwards of using and illegally importing steroids in 2018, although she was not charged for doing so.
Prosecutors did not request that Edwards be arrested immediately. Woods ordered her to report to prison on August 2nd.