MANHATTAN (CN) — A federal judge handed a six-month prison sentence Thursday to a former Treasury official who painted herself as a whistleblower for leaking government records about targets of Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
“I understand she viewed herself as a whistleblower," U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods said at the hearing this afternoon in Manhattan. "But I'm not focused on that because blowing the whistle through property channels is important. But we are not here because Dr. Edwards blew the whistle about areas of concern through the proper channels.”
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, who got her doctorate in philosophy from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007, was arrested during President Donald Trump's second year in office, shortly after Buzzfeed reporter Jason Leopold penned a series of articles on financial transactions flagged by the government involving Russian spy Maria Butina, former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and two convicted figures from Trump's 2016 campaign, Paul Manafort and Richard Gates.
The FBI had discovered hundreds of encrypted messages that Leopold traded with Edwards, who worked in the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Prosecutors further found Edwards had provided more than 2,000 suspicious activity reports, or SARs, and other secret information.
Edwards pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy but insisted that she had no ill intent when releasing the thousands of documents to Buzzfeed.
At her sentencing this afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Ravener scoffed at the defendant's attempt to paint herself as a whistleblower.
“The criminal she was looking for was herself,” Ravener said.
Edwards, 43, spoke in her defense at the hearing, saying she was sorry for what she did but that she felt she was doing the right thing.
“I did not take my oath lightly, and when I saw corruption within the Treasury Department, I had to speak up,” Edwards said. “I do apologize for the disclosure of that information.”
As for the judge's remark about reporting malfeasance through the proper channels, Edwards said she only went to the media after first alerting her supervisors of the alleged corruption.
She said she was transparent about the whole process, but the prosecutor balked at the assertion.
“To this day there has never been any substantive evidence of her claims. To hear her say she was open and transparent about all of this is simply a lie,” Ravener said. “She claims she followed procedures but she followed her own.”
Judge Woods took care in delivering his sentence to praise Edwards for her achievements and her engagement with the Native American community, but he said that did not negate the seriousness of her crimes.
Expressing disappointment in Edwards, the Obama appointee called her handling of the documents “reckless” and said that her conduct was intentional.
“It’s sad that a woman who went into government following 9/11 would think that exposing sensitive documents would be acceptable,” Woods remarked.
While sentencing guidelines call for a term of zero to six months, Woods said a lesser sentence would not be enough of a deterrent for others in the future.
After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss underscored the importance of holding government officials accountable.
“Today’s sentence demonstrates that public servants who abuse the power entrusted to them will face steep consequences for their actions," Strauss said in a statement. "Maintaining the confidentiality of SARs, which are filed by banks and other financial institutions to alert law enforcement to potentially illegal transactions, is critical to preserve the integrity of myriad investigations, and the financial privacy of individuals. Government employees entrusted with such highly sensitive information owe a duty to safeguard that information. The defendant abused that trust to serve her own purposes, broke the law, and now faces time in a federal prison for her actions.”
Edwards is set to head to prison on August 2. She will also face three years of supervised release. Her attorney, Stephanie Carvlin, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
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