A former Treasury Department official pleaded guilty in federal court in New York City on Monday to leaking sensitive financial records of multiple Trump associates and figures in the Trump-Russia investigation to a reporter at BuzzFeed News.
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, who served as a senior adviser at the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), pleaded guilty to conspiring to disclose Suspicious Activities Reports, known as SARs.
According to prosecutors, from October 2017 until her arrest in October 2018, Edwards provided SARs that were used in around a dozen stories published at BuzzFeed by reporter Jason Leopold.
The SARs were of financial transctions involving Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, as well as Maria Butina, a Russian national who pleaded guilty to charges that she acted as an unregistered agent. BuzzFeed also published stories based on SARs filed on the Russian embassy and several of the Russians involved in the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Banks are required by law to file SARs with the Treasury Department if they observe suspicious financial activity in clients’ accounts. It is a federal crime to disclose the documents.
Edwards admitted to transmitting the SARs to Leopold by photographing the reports and sending them over encrypted messaging applications. She was arrested with a flash drive containing the SARs, as well as a cell phone that held communications on an encrypted messaging app with Leopold, prosecutors said.
“As she has now admitted, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a former senior-level FinCEN employee, abused her position of trust by agreeing to repeatedly disclose highly sensitive information contained in Suspicious Activity Reports,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement announcing Edwards’ guilty plea.
“Maintaining the confidentiality of SARs, which are filed by banks and other financial institutions to alert law enforcement to potentially illegal transactions, is essential to permit them to serve their statutory function, and the defendant’s conduct violated the integrity of that critical system and the law.”
Edwards, who was arrested on Oct. 16, 2018, initially pleaded not guilty in the case. She faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The Justice Department has aggressively pursued leaks investigations during the Trump administration, thanks in part to an uptick in anti-Trump leaks.
On Feb. 28, 2019, a grand jury in California indicted an IRS analyst who leaked SARs filed against former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. The analyst, John Fry, leaked the records to Michael Avenatti, the disgraced former attorney for Stormy Daniels, and to journalist Ronan Farrow.
On June 7, 2018, a grand jury in Washington, D.C. indicted James Wolfe, the former director of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee, on charges that he lied to the FBI regarding contacts with reporters who published stories about Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser.
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