WASHINGTON — Reality L. Winner, a former Air Force linguist who was the first person prosecuted by the Trump administration on costs of leaking labeled info, pleaded responsible on Tuesday as a part of an settlement with prosecutors that requires a sentence of 63 months in jail.
Ms. Winner, who entered her plea in Federal District Court in Augusta, Ga., was arrested final June and accused of sharing a classified report about Russian interference in the 2016 election with the information media.
Ms. Winner, who’s now 26, has been jailed since her arrest. Her determination to plead responsible to at least one felony rely permits the federal government each to keep away from a posh trial that had been scheduled for October and to notch a victory within the Trump administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers.
“All of my actions I did willfully, meaning I did so of my own free will,” Ms. Winner mentioned in courtroom on Tuesday.
Ms. Winner, who was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 2016, was working as a contractor for the National Security Agency when she obtained a replica of a report that described hacks by a Russian intelligence service towards native election officers and an organization that offered software program associated to voter registration.
The Intercept, a web-based information outlet prosecutor mentioned Ms. Winner admired, published a copy of the top secret report shortly earlier than Ms. Winner’s arrest was made public. The report described two cyberattacks by Russia’s navy intelligence unit, the G.R.U. — one in August towards an organization that sells voter registration-related software program and one other, a couple of days earlier than the election, towards 122 native election officers.
At a detention hearing final yr, the prosecutor, Jennifer G. Solari, mentioned that Ms. Winner had been “mad about some things she had seen in the media, and she wanted to set the facts right.”
An F.B.I. affidavit made public when she was arrested final yr mentioned there was a visual crease mark on the file, a scan of which The Intercept had offered to the federal government whereas making an attempt to authenticate it. That prompted investigators to surmise it was a printout.
Audit trails confirmed six individuals had printed copies, however just one — Ms. Winner — had used a piece pc to ship emails to The Intercept. A search warrant application mentioned she had discovered the report by plugging key phrases into the N.S.A.’s system that fell exterior her regular work duties.
Moreover, whereas the F.B.I. didn’t point out it in courtroom filings, pc safety specialists famous that the printer appeared to go away barely seen microdots on the printout figuring out the serial variety of the printer and the date and time of the printing: 6:20 a.m. on May 9, 2017.
Once uncommon, leak circumstances have change into rather more widespread within the 21st century, partly due to such digital trails. Depending on how they’re counted, the Obama administration introduced 9 or 10 leak-related prosecutions — about twice as many as have been introduced below all earlier presidencies mixed.
The Justice Department prosecuted Ms. Winner below the Espionage Act, a World War I-era regulation that criminalizes the unauthorized disclosure of national-security secrets and techniques that could possibly be used to hurt the United States or help a overseas adversary. Defendants going through such costs aren’t permitted to argued to a jury throughout trial that they need to vote to acquit as a result of the disclosure was within the public curiosity.
Ms. Winner’s prosecution galvanized transparency advocates, who mounted a publicity marketing campaign in her help that even included a billboard in Augusta, the east Georgia metropolis the place Ms. Winner lived on the time of her arrest. They have been significantly infuriated by a decide’s ruling that she be held till her trial.
“They’re just coming down on her so tough,” Billie Winner-Davis, Ms. Winner’s mom, mentioned in an interview after Tuesday’s plea listening to was scheduled. “I can only think that it’s because she was the very first one: the one they wanted to make an example out of, the one they wanted to nail to the door as a message to others.”
Still, Ms. Winner-Davis mentioned of her daughter’s willingness to plead responsible, “She wouldn’t have made this decision if she wasn’t ready to accept the consequences and to accept responsibility.”
Ms. Winner is the second particular person recognized to have reached a plea settlement with the Trump administration to resolve a leak prosecution. A former F.B.I. agent, Terry J. Albury, pleaded guilty in April, however prosecutors in that case have signaled that they’ll ask that he serve 46 to 57 months in jail.
The Justice Department has introduced at the least two different leak-related circumstances below the Trump administration.
Earlier this month, James Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, was arrested and charged with lying to the F.B.I. about his contacts with reporters, together with a Times reporter with whom he had a personal relationship and whose telephone data the division secretly seized, throughout a leak investigation; Mr. Wolfe has not been charged with leaking labeled info, nevertheless. He has pleaded not guilty.
Also this month, Joshua A. Schulte, a former C.I.A. software program engineer, was charged with violating the Espionage Act and different legal guidelines primarily based on accusations that he despatched a stolen archive of paperwork and digital instruments associated to the company’s hacking operations to WikiLeaks, which dubbed them the Vault 7 leak. Mr. Schulte had already been going through youngster pornography costs.
A decide should nonetheless resolve whether or not to approve her sentence after reviewing a report that prosecutors will current. But prosecutors’ advice of greater than 5 years in jail — adopted by three years of supervised launch — was unusually harsh for a leak case.
For most of American historical past, individuals accused of leaking to the information media weren’t prosecuted in any respect. In the flurry of circumstances which have arisen throughout the 21st century, most convicted defendants have been sentenced to at least one to three-and-a-half years.
One — Chelsea Manning, who was convicted at a navy court-martial for sending giant archives of navy and diplomatic paperwork to WikiLeaks — was sentenced to 35 years in jail, however served solely about seven years as a result of President Barack Obama commuted the rest of her sentence.
Ms. Winner’s mom, who has spoken with Ms. Winner recurrently because the arrest, steered that they each feared how she could be perceived going ahead.
“She said she wants the world to know that she does love her country, and she is a patriot,” she mentioned. “I don’t want her to go down in history as a traitor to her country.”
Charlie Savage reported from Washington, and Alan Blinder from Atlanta. Max Blau contributed reporting from Augusta, Ga.