Treasury official charged with leaking docs related to Russia, Manafort

A senior official in the Treasury Department was arrested and charged with disclosing sensitive financial transaction reports pertaining to multiple entities tied to President Donald Trump and Russia, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, to a reporter.

The official, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, illegally disclosed the documents, known as Suspicious Activity Reports, to a reporter for BuzzFeed News, according to the complaint and a person familiar with the matter. The complaint, which doesn’t name the news organization or the reporter, lists around a dozen news articles that contained information based on the content of the reports, and the descriptions of the stories in the court filings match articles published by BuzzFeed.

A spokesman for BuzzFeed declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s office declined to comment.

Edwards, 40, a senior adviser in the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as “FinCEN,” was arrested and charged by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York with one count of unauthorized disclosure of Suspicious Activity Reports and one count of conspiracy to make such unauthorized disclosures. The charges, whcih were unsealed Wednesday, allege that she leaked reports concerning not only Manafort, but his business associate Rick Gates, the Russian Embassy and alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, among others.

She appeared in federal court in Virginia on Wednesday, where a judge released her into the custody of her parents on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond. The judge prohibited her from having any contact with an unnamed co-conspirator at FinCEN who is referenced in the complaint or with the reporter to whom she is accused of leaking the material.

Peter Greenspan, Edwards’ attorney, declined to comment on the charges.

Edwards is currently on administrative leave, according to FinCEN spokesman Steve Hudak.

The investigation into the leaked reports came after federal agents identified a pattern of financial information from people or entities under investigation by various federal prosecutors’ offices, including that of special counsel Robert Mueller, appearing in news reports. Manafort and Gates were both charged by Mueller in related cases, and both are now cooperating with the special counsel’s office. Butina, a Russian national, was charged with acting as a foreign agent by the Justice Department’s national security division. She has pleaded not guilty.

The type of reports Edwards is accused of leaking are filed confidentially by banks and other financial institutions to flag for law-enforcement entities what they believe are possibly illegal transactions. The unit that employs Edwards maintains a centralized database of such reports, which can be accessed by law enforcement for investigations and other matters.

Both counts with which Edwards was charged carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

For a year, between October 2017 and this month, Edwards used an encrypted application to send electronic images or descriptions of the documents to a reporter, according to the indictment, at times exchanging a large volume of messages. On August 2, 2018, for example, Edwards and the reporter exchanged 541 messages, the indictment says.

In her effort to transmit the material to the reporter, Edwards saved the reports and other sensitive information to a FinCEN-provided flash drive, then took photographs of the documents and texted them over, the complaint says. She also sent the reporter internal government emails related to the reports as well as other non-public material, including investigative memos, according to the complaint.

BuzzFeed’s reporting contained detailed information drawn from Suspicious Activity Reports. A story in October 2017, for example, said the news organization “has learned specific details about 13 of the wire transfers” related to Manafort, and included details about where the transfers originated. The BuzzFeed story said the transfers were “flagged” by US financial institutions.

In October, Edwards concealed her relationship with the reporter in an interview with federal agents, according to the complaint, and denied any contacts with news media.

At the time of her arrest, Edwards was found with the flash drive and cell phone she allegedly used to leak the government documents, according to the US Attorney’s office.

When questioned by law-enforcement officials at the time of her arrest, she confessed that she had provided the reports to the reporter, according to the complaint. But, the complaint says, she “falsely denied” knowing that the reporter intended to publish the information.

On Wednesday, the judge in Virginia said Edwards’s next court appearance will be in New York, prior to November 2.