Lawyers for a National Security Agency contractor charged with leaking a highly classified document say newly released memos show the “extraordinary pressure” the FBI was under from President Donald Trump and then-FBI Director James Comey to prevent her from leaving her Augusta, Georgia, home during her interrogation there last June.
Reality Winner was ultimately arrested on June 3 and indicted on one count of unauthorized disclosure of classified information under the Espionage Act, but her defense is asking a federal magistrate judge to order her statements that day suppressed because she was not free to leave and had not yet been read her Miranda rights.
In a new court filing Friday, Winner’s attorneys argue that the directives from Trump and Comey to crack down on leaks mean there was no chance agents would have allowed Winner to leave regardless of what she said.
“With the extraordinary pressure coming from the highest parts of the Executive Branch to aggressively pursue leakers, the FBI was simply never going to allow Ms. Winner to walk out the door,” Winner attorney Joe Whitley and other lawyers wrote.
The filing refers to passages in the memos Comey wrote after meetings with Trump in early 2017. The then-FBI director recounts that Trump repeatedly complained about leaks and that Comey replied that he considered them “terrible.”
“I said I was eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message,” Comey wrote following a February 2017 meeting in the Oval Office. “I said something about it being difficult and he replied that we need to go after the reporters.”
Trump later returned to the subject and suggested reporters might reveal their sources after they “make a new friend” in jail, one memo says. “I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message,” Comey added.
Winner is accused of leaking a top-secret NSA report on Russia’s alleged use of hacking techniques called “spearfishing” to gain access to election-related websites and voter-registration databases. The document was published in June, a couple of days after Winner’s arrest.
Winner’s defense says in its new filing that FBI Special Agent Justin Garrick’s testimony “that Ms. Winner was free to leave is simply not believable in light of all the facts surrounding the execution of the warrants and Ms. Winner’s interrogation.”
“It is made all the more incredible, however, given the directives of Special Agent Garrick’s bosses, the President of the United States and the then-FBI Director James B. Comey,” the defense team writes.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps held a hearing last February on the voluntariness of Winner’s statements. He has not yet ruled on the issue of whether the government should be barred from using her statements against her.
Winner has been denied bail pending her trial, which is set for October 15.