Reality Winner, an Air Force veteran and former National Security Agency contractor charged with leaking classified material to the media, pleaded guilty Tuesday morning in federal court in Augusta, Georgia.
Winner, 26, pleaded guilty to one federal count of willful retention and transmission of national defense information, all but giving the Trump administration its first criminal-leak conviction.
A judge will review the plea and decide whether to accept the agreement at a later date. The agreement proposes Winner serve 63 months in prison to be followed by three years supervised release, reporters said — roughly half the 10-year maximum sentence she would have faced if found guilty at trial.
A former Air Force linguist, Winner worked for Pluribus International Corp., a defense and intelligence contractor, when she was arrested last June and charged under the Espionage Act with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to an online news outlet.
She pleaded not guilty shortly after her arrest and has been held in custody for the past 12 months awaiting trial.
The government has kept much of the Winner case under seal, but previous reporting has made it apparent she’s accused of leaking an intelligence document detailing Russian cyberattacks waged in 2016 against the U.S. election and its voting infrastructure. That report was published by The Intercept, an online news site, hours after Winner’s arrest.
Attorneys for Winner submitted a plea agreement on her behalf last week, but details of the filing were kept private prior to Tuesday’s federal court hearing in Augusta.
A lawyer for Winner told The Washington Times that the hearing marked “an important and significant day” in his client’s case.
“She has taken this matter seriously, and has made a very difficult decision that will no doubt impact the rest of her life,” defense attorney Joe Whitley said in a statement. “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. However, Reality wishes to thank the numerous individuals and organizations who have supported her through this process.”
Betsy Reed, The Intercept’s editor-in-chief, said that Winner’s “disclosure served the public interest by alerting Americans to vulnerabilities in our voting system.”
“Her plea agreement reflects the conclusion of Winner and her lawyers that the terms of this deal represent the best outcome possible for her in the current environment,” Ms. Reed said in a statement. “She not only faced unrelenting pressure from prosecutors, but a series of setbacks in the courtroom severely restricted her lawyers’ ability to defend her.”
Attorneys for the Justice Department did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
President Trump has denounced leaks since taking office, and Winner’s arrest five months into his presidency signaled the first criminal case against a leaker publicly initiated during his administration.