Reality Winner’s defense getting boost from supporters

Reality Leigh Winner

The parent company of the online media outlet that published an extensive article based on the classified document suspected of being leaked by Reality Leigh Winner has thrown its weight and money behind the Augusta woman who is the first person prosecuted under the Espionage Act by the Trump Administration.

 

First Look Media, parent company of The Intercept, announced Tuesday on The Intercept website that it will contribute to Winner’s defense through its Press Freedom Defense Fund. A $50,000 grant will go into Winner’s defense fund to hire First Look Media’s attorney Baruch Weiss to assist her defense team of Augusta-area attorneys Titus Nichols and John Bell.

Nichols, a former state prosecutor now in private practice who is also in the Judge Advocate General Corps, and Bell, a seasoned veteran with decades of courtroom experience, have never handled the defense of someone accused of violating the Espionage Act. Winner is accused of a single count of willful retention and transmission of national defense information.

Nichols said Wednesday that the local court rules prohibit him from publicly discussing his client’s defense.

Weiss, according to his Washington, D.C., law firm’s website, specializes in several areas of defense work, including national security investigations. A partner in the firm Arnold Porter Kaye Scholer, Weiss served as the acting deputy general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2006, and he worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in New York.

Winner, 25, has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Augusta. According to prior stories in The Augusta Chronicle, Winner served in the Air Force as a linguist specialist in Middle Eastern languages. That service earned her a top security clearance, which enabled her to get a job at Fort Gordon in February with National Security Agency contractor Pluribus.

According to court documents, federal investigators followed a string of clues to allegedly link Winner to a classified document The Intercept used for a June 5 report about the extent of efforts by Russian military intelligence to “hack into several states’ voting infrastructure, highlight vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system and providing vital context for the current debate over Russian interference in the election,” Betsy Reed wrote for The Intercept on Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, Reed, the editor in chief, wrote that The Intercept failed to hold itself to the standards it should have to protect the source of the anonymously leaked classified document about Russian meddling in the election. “… It is clear that we should have taken greater precautions to protect the identity of a source who was anonymous even to us.”

The Press Freedom Defense Fund was created in 2014 to support journalists, whistle blowers and others who battle in court for issues of importance to the public, freedom of the press and human and civil rights cases, wrote Jeannie Kedas, First Look Media’s communications officer via email Wednesday.

The fund has assisted news outlets with denied Freedom of Information requests, those charged under the Espionage act, such as U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, and others in the United States and abroad, according to Kedas.

In addition to the Press Freedom Defense Fund, a new nonprofit, Stand with Reality, launched its campaign Monday to raise money for Winner’s defense. Winner’s Go Fund Me page has raised more than $41,000.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

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