Sun, 21 Apr 2019

A U.S. Treasury official has been charged with leaking to the online news outlet BuzzFeed confidential documents of suspects in a special counsel probe of ties between Russia and President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

U.S. prosecutors in New York said on October 17 that Natalie May Edwards, a senior adviser in the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, was arrested on October 16 and charged with conspiracy and unauthorized disclosure of suspicious activity reports from banks about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other suspects. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates have pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Prosecutors said Edwards leaked documents that became the basis of BuzzFeed articles about that investigation. Information from the bank disclosures was reported in 11 articles that appeared in Buzzfeed over the course of a year, they said.

A U.S. magistrate judge in Alexandria, Virginia, ordered that Edwards, 40, be released after surrendering her passport and posting a $100,000 bond on October 17.

Edwards' lawyer, Peter Greenspun, declined to speak to reporters at the hearing.

A Treasury spokesman said Edwards has been placed on administrative leave. BuzzFeed had no immediate comment.

In an interview with federal investigators, Edwards described herself as a 'whistleblower' who made the disclosures for 'record keeping' purposes, prosecutors said.

Banks must file suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department when they spot transactions that raise questions about possible financial misconduct such as money laundering.

Prosecutors said that beginning in October 2017, Edwards disclosed suspicious activity reports connected to Manafort, Gates, accused Russian agent Maria Butina, the Russian embassy in Washington, and a unit of Prevezon Holdings Ltd, a corporation owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.

Prosecutors said Edwards saved the confidential reports on a flash drive and sent them to a BuzzFeed reporter using an encrypted messaging application.

Prosecutors also said the reporter exchanged encrypted messages with an unnamed associate director at Treasury to whom Edwards reports, who was cited as a 'co-conspirator' but was not charged in the case.

Butina was arrested in July for allegedly acting as an unregistered agent for Russia, and is in a Washington, D.C., jail awaiting trial.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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