A former government contract employee who leaked information to the press about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was sentenced Thursday to more than five years in prison.
Reality Winner, 26, worked for federal contractor Pluribus International Corp. in Augusta, Georgia, when she was arrested last year after “removing classified materials from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet,” a criminal complaint said at the time.
The former Air Force linguist sent a National Security Agency memo that detailed Russia’s attempts to gain access to “multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards” to The Intercept.
She had faced a maximum of 10 years in prison, but reached a plea deal with prosecutors. Still, her sentence of 63 months is the longest yet for a government leaker, prosecutors said when requesting the sentence.
U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine said Winner “knowingly and intentionally betrayed the trust of her colleagues and her country” in a statement following the sentencing.
“Make no mistake: THIS WAS OT[sic] A VICTIMLESS CRIME,” the statement from Trump-appointed Christine said. “Winner’s purposeful violation put our nation’s security at risk.”
During her sentencing, Winner apologized to the government, the court and her family.
Since her arrest, Winner has spent every day in jail after being denied bail. In June, Winner pleaded guilty to a charge of violating the Espionage Act, a law passed more than 100 years ago in an effort to combat foreign spies. Barack Obama was the first president to use the act to target whistleblowers.
“People automatically hear ‘espionage’ and think she’s a traitor to her country, and I don’t want people thinking that she’s a traitor to the U.S.,” her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told HuffPost in June. “I don’t agree with how the government uses the Espionage Act. She should not be labeled a traitor.”
During her time in county jail, Winner has had limited access outside, has shared a shower and toilet with multiple other inmates, and was only recently given a second pair of pants to wear, her mother said. Transferring to a new prison system is “going to improve her situation drastically,” Winner-Davis said.
“I think she has maintained her strength and sanity [while incarcerated,]” Winner-Davis told HuffPost on Tuesday before her sentencing. “She maintains her sense of humor which helps her through it. People who have written to her have helped keep her going, kept her strong.”
Winner-Davis added she hopes her daughter will be moved to a prison closer to her and her family in Texas.
After completing her 63 months in prison, Winner has been ordered to serve three years of supervised release.