Sessions’ investigators find leaker at Treasury
The Trump administration’s effort to root out leakers in the federal government bagged a top-level Treasury employee who was charged last week with giving a reporter confidential information about suspicious financial transactions involving former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, accused Russian agent Maria Butina and the Russian Embassy.
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, 40, of Quinton, Virginia, a senior adviser in Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, was arrested on charges of leaking numerous suspicious activity reports to a reporter, said prosecutors with the Southern District of New York.
She “betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information contained in Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) to an individual not authorized to receive them,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The journalist, who was not identified, wrote roughly a dozen articles that included details from the reports, according to court documents. BuzzFeed reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier have bylines on articles cited in the 18-page criminal complaint. However, court documents did not identify BuzzFeed or the reporters.
The articles detailed suspicious activity reports related to individuals who have been caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, including former Trump campaign chairman Manafort and Gates, a former Trump campaign deputy chairman. Reports of suspicious activity by diplomats also showed up in the articles.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is prioritizing the weeding-out of government leakers, saying that animosity toward President Trump is fueling the rising number of leaks.
“My view when I came here was that there was way too much leaking, but it really seemed to accelerate when President Trump became president,” he told The Washington Times this week.
Although Ms. Edwards’ motives are not known, Mr. Sessions told The Times that Justice Department investigators have uncovered “a political quotient” among the leakers.
Mr. Trump last year demanded that the Justice Department take tougher action on leakers, and Mr. Sessions responded by vowing to increase prosecutions.
“When I came, there were three open leak investigations. We raised that to 27 in the first year,” Mr. Sessions said.
Ms. Edwards was arrested the same week that former FBI agent Terry Albury was set to be sentenced for leaking information about the bureau’s monitoring of minority communities to the Intercept newspaper.
Also this week, former Senate staffer James Wolfe pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his relationships with reporters. Although Mr. Wolfe was not accused of leaking information to the press, he was snared in the FBI’s investigation of the disclosure of confidential information related to Trump campaign figure Carter Page.
Court documents say Ms. Edwards took photographs of the financial reports and texted them to the reporter over an encrypted email. She also shared internal FinCEN emails and other non-public reports from October 2017 through this month, prosecutors said.
When she was arrested, Ms. Edwards had a flash drive that appeared to contain the unlawfully disclosed reports, a cellphone containing numerous communications over an encrypted application and “other sensitive government information,” prosecutors said.
“The majority of the files were saved to a folder on the flash drive entitled ‘Debacle — Operation-CF,’ and sub-folders bearing names such as ‘Debacle\Emails\Asshat,’” the complaint said.
“Edwards is not known to be involved in any official FinCEN project or task bearing these file titles or code names.”
FinCEN’s suspicious activity reports are used to alert officials about financial transactions that could be related to a crime such as money laundering. It’s a felony for government workers to disclose reports or content outside of their work scope.
Ms. Edwards initially denied to the FBI that she had contacts with reporters but later admitted to sharing FinCEN information, the complaint said.
She was arrested one day after BuzzFeed published a story about a loan TD Bank provided to a subsidiary of Russian-owned Prevezon Holdings despite red flags. BuzzFeed cited FinCEN records in the article, which also mentioned Manafort, Ms. Butina and a Russian developer.
Ms. Edwards faces one count of unlawfully disclosing suspicious activity reports and one count of conspiracy to disclose those reports. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
She appeared before a judge in an Alexandria, Virginia, court. She was released on $10,000 bail and ordered to report before a federal judge in New York next month. In addition, Ms. Edwards is barred from using FinCEN equipment or speaking with FinCEN employees.
Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report.