Politics

Ex-Treasury official pleads guilty to SARS leaks about former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Russians

Key Points
  • A former U.S. Treasury official pleaded guilty Monday to illegally leaking highly confidential documents about suspicious financial transactions by ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and others to reporters at BuzzFeed News.
  • The official, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, leaked so-called suspicious activity reports, or SARS, about Manafort, fellow Trump campaign official Rick Gates, Russian agent Maria Butina, the Russian Embassy in Moscow and a suspected Russian money-laundering entity.
  • Edwards, who had held a senior position in Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, is due to be scheduled June 9 by Judge Gregory Woods, and faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison.
Natalie Mayflower Edwards
Source: Alexandria Sheriff's Office

A former U.S. Treasury official pleaded guilty Monday to illegally leaking highly confidential documents about suspicious financial transactions of ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and others to reporters at BuzzFeed News.

The official, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, leaked so-called suspicious activity reports, or SARS, starting in October 2017 about Manafort, his business associate and fellow Trump campaign official Rick Gates, Russian agent Maria Butina, the Russian Embassy in Washington and a suspected Russian money laundering entity.

Edwards, 41, continued leaking the sensitive documents for the next year.

The Quinton, Virginia, resident pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of SARS during an appearance in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, a week before she was scheduled to go on trial.

In the courtroom during her plea was her family, including her daughter, who is a high school student.

Edwards, who had held a senior position in Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, is due to be sentenced June 9 by Judge Gregory Woods, and faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison.

"We're going to push hard for" a non-jail sentence, said her lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, who noted that federal sentencing guidelines suggest a jail term of zero to six months for Edwards.

Agnifilo, told reporters after the hearing that, "I think that she was movitated by things she thought was important," and "didn't trust that the government was doing the right thing."

The lawyer said that Edwards had been "in contact with different subcommittees in Congress, with other people in the government" about the information she ended up leaking to BuzzFeed.

A criminal complaint filed against Edwards in October 2018 says she had "hundreds of electronic communications" with a reporter, "many via an encrypted application."

After Edwards began leaking the documents, the journalist wrote articles which mentioned the details of those reports, the complaint said.

From left: Defense attorney Marc Agnifilo, defendant Natalie Edwards, defense attorney Jacob Kaplan, AUSA Kimberly Ravener (standing).

Articles cited in the complaint carry the bylines of Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, two BuzzFeed News reporters, as well as other journalists at the same outlet.

When Edwards was arrested, prosecutors said she "was in possession of a flash drive" that appeared to be the same device "on which she saved the unlawfully disclosed" SARs.

Also in her possession was "a cellphone containing numerous communications over an encrypted application in which she transmitted [SARS] and other sensitive government information" illegally, prosecutors said.

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Ex-Treasury official pleads guilty to SARS leaks about ex-Trump campaign officials

"When questioned by law enforcement officials [Tuesday], Edwards confessed she has provided [SARS] to [the reporter] via an encrypted application, though falsely denied knowing that [the reporter] intended to or did publish that information" through a news organization, the complaint said.

Manafort, who headed Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign for several months that year, is serving prison sentence of more than seven years in connection with crimes related to money he earned from consulting work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.

Gates last month was sentenced to 45 days in jail for conspiracy and making a false statement.

Correction: Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards leaked so-called suspicious activity reports, or SARS, about the Russian Embassy in Washington. An earlier version misstated the location.