Jailed Win­ner says Rus­sia probe a ‘lit­tle vin­di­cat­ing’

Ex-NSA con­trac­tor says she’s a pa­triot who loves Amer­ica.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - NATION - By Jeremy Red­mon jred­mon@ajc.com

Re­al­ity Win­ner, who was sen­tenced in Au­gusta to more than five years in prison for leak­ing top-se­cret gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments about Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion, said in a tele­vised in­ter­view Thurs­day that it has been a “lit­tle vin­di­cat­ing” watch­ing Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­ceed.

The former Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor thanked Pres­i­dent Trump for ex­press­ing sym­pa­thy for her on Twit­ter last week, called her­self a “pa­triot” and dis­cussed her plans for when she gets out of prison.

“It’s been a lit­tle vin­di­cat­ing but also frus­trat­ing,” she told “CBS This Morn­ing” about Mueller’s probe dur­ing a tele­phone call from the Lin­coln County Jail, where she is be­ing held un­til she is trans­ferred to the fed­eral prison sys­tem.

“I know that had I been out and al­lowed some kind of opin­ion about it I would be do­ing my due dili­gence as a cit­i­zen, con­tact­ing my sen­a­tors. But as it is I just have been be­hind bars, kind of as a spec­ta­tor and kind of a sound­ing box to other peo­ple’s opin­ions. When I call peo­ple, they are so frus­trated. Or the mail I get — peo­ple are just vent­ing to me about the state of the coun­try.”

Win­ner, 26, pleaded guilty to mail­ing a copy of a NSA doc­u­ment to The In­ter­cept, an on­line pub­li­ca­tion. The In­ter­cept pub­lished an ar­ti­cle based on the re­port, say­ing Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence sent spear-phish­ing emails to more than 100 lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials and launched a cy­ber­at­tack against a Florida-based vot­ing soft­ware sup­plier that con­tracts in eight states.

Mueller, who is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the na­tion’s elec­tion sys­tem as well as pos­si­ble links be­tween Rus­sian of­fi­cials and Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, has is­sued charges against 32 peo­ple and three com­pa­nies. Six peo­ple have pleaded guilty. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former cam­paign manger, was con­victed of un­re­lated fi­nan­cial fraud last week.

Asked on CBS whether she re­gret­ted her ac­tions, Win­ner re­sponded: “Yes, deeply.”

“I think that I was iso­lated at that time,” she said. “And, psy­cho­log­i­cally, you are not go­ing to make the best de­ci­sions.”

Win­ner thanked Trump for ques­tion­ing the fair­ness of her pun­ish­ment. Trump also took a swipe at U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions in his tweet, writ­ing: “Ex-NSA con­trac­tor to spend 63 months in jail over ‘clas­si­fied’ in­for­ma­tion. Gee, this is ‘small pota­toes’ com­pared to what Hil­lary Clin­ton did! So un­fair Jeff, Dou­ble Stan­dard.”

Win­ner, who pre­vi­ously called Trump an “or­ange fas­cist” and “Tan­ger­ine in Chief ” on Twit­ter, said his tweet about her Fri­day was a “breath of fresh air,” adding it made her laugh.

“I just can’t thank him enough for fi­nally say­ing what ev­ery­body has been think­ing for 16 months,” Win­ner said. “He re­ally gave a whole a sense of hu­mor to the thing be­cause it is quite bizarre.”

Win­ner called the pos­si­bil­ity of a pres­i­den­tial par­don “a wild hope.”

“I am not go­ing to sit around and wait for bless­ings,” she said, adding about Trump: “I don’t like to as­sume what goes on in his head.”

Win­ner also pushed back against pros­e­cu­tors’ neg­a­tive por­trayal of her in court, call­ing her­self a pa­triot and say­ing she loves Amer­ica. Win­ner, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, wrote in a note­book seized by au­thor­i­ties that she wanted to “burn the White House down” and flee over­seas.

“I care about this coun­try. I want to make it as good as it can get,” she said. “Tak­ing lit­tle words or state­ments out of con­text, they were able to try to dam­age my char­ac­ter and it took ev­ery­thing I had not to kind of be­lieve their nar­ra­tive.

“Be­cause when you are sit­ting there in that or­ange uni­form and they are the ones telling you who you are, it is sur­real. You start to be­lieve them. If I didn’t have the sup­port of my fam­ily or peo­ple around the world say­ing: ‘We see through this,’ I would have been lost.”

Win­ner said when she gets out of prison she plans to move to South Texas and study so­ci­ol­ogy.

“I know we have a refugee sit­u­a­tion on our bor­der,” she said. “If I can­not change the sys­tem or the leg­is­la­tion, then I want to make sure I can start non­profit pro­grams for these chil­dren and par­ents and young adults to make sure that ev­ery day they spend counts and that they get to work to­ward their Amer­i­can dream, even if it is un­sure if it will come to fruition or not.”

Re­al­ity Win­ner

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