Published 6:13 PM EDT Oct 17, 2018
WASHINGTON – A Treasury Department official was charged with leaking sensitive bank data to a reporter related to a series of high-profile government defendants, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign deputy Rick Gates and accused Russian agent Maria Butina.
Natalie Mayflower Edwards, a senior adviser at Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), was named in a two-count complaint alleging that she disclosed so-called suspicious activity reports (SARs) that alert authorities to possible illegal banking transactions.
Edwards made her first federal court appearance Wednesday in Alexandria, Virginia, where she was released on a $100,000 bond. She is expected in a New York federal court next month where the case originated.
Edwards' lawyer didn't respond to a request for comment.
The reporter and news organization were not named in court documents. But prosecutors provided dates and contents of a series of news reports that appeared to match dispatches published by BuzzFeed.
The news organization did not immediately comment.
During the past year, prosecutors asserted that Edwards exchanged hundreds of messages with the reporter, referred to in court documents as "Reporter 1," using an encrypted application to disguise the contacts.
Edwards, while being interviewed Monday by FBI agents, "initially concealed her relationship with Reporter 1 and denied having any contacts with the news media," according to court documents. At that time, according to court documents, Edwards said an associate director of FinCEN and another FinCEN employee had been in contact with journalists.
The associate director was described in court documents as "CC-1," an acronym used to identify a co-conspirator. According to court documents, CC-1 exchanged hundreds of text messages with the reporter.
When agents made direct reference to Reporter 1, "Edwards changed her account and admitted that on numerous occasions she accessed SARs on her computer, photographed them and sent those photographs to Reporter 1 using the encrypted application."
The information Edwards allegedly provided was used in the publication of about 12 articles during the past year related to Manafort, Gates, Butina and a real estate company in the name of Prevezon Alexander.
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Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Edwards "repeatedly betrayed her position of trust" by disclosing the material.
"We hope today’s charges remind those in positions of trust within government agencies that the unlawful sharing of sensitive documents will not be tolerated and will be met with swift justice by this office,” Berman said.
Prosecutors said Edwards had access to thousands of files, including information related to the activities of Manafort, Gates and Butina.
More: Accused Russian agent Maria Butina to remain in jail, judge puts gag order on both sides
At the time of her arrest, according to court documents, Edwards allegedly had a flash drive containing the leaked documents and a cellphone used to communicate with the reporter.
The 40-year-old official is charged with one count of unauthorized disclosures and one count of conspiracy to make the disclosures. Each carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison.
Manafort was convicted of financial fraud in August by a federal court jury in Virginia, the first contested prosecution brought by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the ongoing inquiry into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
Last month, Manafort pleaded guilty in a related case in the District of Columbia as part of an agreement with prosecutors which requires his cooperation in the Russia investigation.
Gates, who was originally charged with Manafort, pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy and lying to the FBI. He testified against his former boss in the Virginia trial as part of his cooperation agreement with the government.
Butina, now awaiting trial, is accused of engaging in a yearslong campaign as a covert agent for the Kremlin in an attempt to "advance the interests of her home country."
She is accused of infiltrating multiple political organizations, including the National Rifle Association, to gain influence for Russia.
The case against Butina is unrelated to Mueller's investigation.