Treasury employee pleads not guilty to leaks BuzzFeed about Manafort
A U.S. Treasury employee pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of leaking highly confidential documents to BuzzFeed about suspicious financial transactions involving ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and others.
Yet court documents show that federal prosecutors and lawyers for the defendant, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, are discussing a possible deal to resolve the case without taking it to trial.
Edwards, a 40-year senior advisor in Treasury’s financial crimes enforcement network, was arrested last October.
A complaint accuses her two counts of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports, or SARs, related to Manafort, former Trump campaign official Richard Gates, Russian agent Maria Butina, the Russian Embassy in Washington, and a suspected Russian money-laundering entity.
SARs are used to alert authorities about financial transactions that may be related to criminal conduct, such as money laundering. Edwards’ division, FinCEN, manages the collection of SARs. It is illegal for a government employee to disclose a SAR or its contents outside of the scope of their work.
Edwards, during her arraignment Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, waived her right to be have the case be presented to a grand jury for possible indictment. Such a waiver is common when a plea deal is being discussed.
She is next due in court on April 2, and remains free on a $100,000 non-secured bond.
The complaint against Edwards said she began leaking “numerous SARS in October 2017” to an unidentified reporter, and continued doing so until October.
Edwards, a resident of Quinton, Virginia, had “hundreds of electronic communications” with the reporter, “many via an encrypted application,” the complaint said.
After Edwards began leaking the documents, the journalist wrote articles which mentioned the details of those reports, the complaint said.
Articles cited in the complaint carry the bylines of Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, two BuzzFeed News reporters, as well as other journalists at the same outlet.
The articles cited documents transactions pertaining to Manafort and Gates, both of whom later pleaded guilty to financial crimes related to their consulting work for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Mueller’s office, in a rare statement, denied a report by Cormier and Leopold in BuzzFeed News that had claimed President Donald Trump had told his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about details of an aborted plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
When Edwards was arrested, prosecutors have said she “was in possession of a flash drive” that appeared to be the same device “on which she saved the unlawfully disclosed” SARs.
Also in her possession was “a cellphone containing numerous communications over an encrypted application in which she transmitted [SARS] and other sensitive government information” illegally, prosecutors said.
“When questioned by law enforcement officials [Tuesday], Edwards confessed she has provided [SARS] to [the reporter] via an encrypted application, through falsely denied knowing that [the reporter] intended to or did publish that information” through a news organization, the complaint said.