KEY POINTS

  • Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards indicated she felt she was a whistleblower because she didn't think the government was handling the reports properly
  • She faces five years in prison for leaking the suspicious activity reports to a reporter
  • Edwards was arrested with a flash drive containing the incriminating information on it

A former official in the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network on Monday pleaded guilty to leaking confidential financial reports on Donald Trump associates as well as the Russian Embassy and a spy.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior adviser at the network, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. She was accused of leaking financial information on a number of people including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Manafort associate Rick Gates and Russian spy Maria Butina.

“Maintaining the confidentiality of SARs [suspicious activity reports], which are filed by banks and other financial institutions to alert law enforcement to potentially illegal transactions, is essential to permit them to serve their statutory function, and the defendant’s conduct violated the integrity of that critical system and the law,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a press release.

Suspicious activity reports are filed by banks to draw attention to possibly illegal transactions. They are meant to be confidential and are kept in a centralized database

Beginning in October 2017, Edwards gave a number of suspicious activity reports to a reporter, who based a dozen stories on the information. Although the press release does not identify the reporter or publication, CNN reported it was BuzzFeed.

Edwards attorney Marc Agnifilo said his client had the best of intentions.

“She was of the view that certain critical facts weren’t being handled the right way by the government agencies whose responsibility it was to handle these things,” Agnifilo said. “She went to the media and said if I can’t trust the government officials to handle this, I think I can trust the media to handle this and bring this to the attention of the American people.”

“Edwards had access to each of the pertinent SARs and saved them – along with thousands of other files containing sensitive government information – to a flash drive provided to her by [the network].  She transmitted the SARs to [the reporter] by means that included taking photographs or images of them and texting the photographs or images to [the reporter] over an encrypted application,” the Justice Department said. In addition, she turned over internal correspondence related to the reports.

When Edwards, 41, of Quinton, Virginia, was arrested, she had a flash drive with the evidence on it and a cellphone with numerous communications with the reporter.

Monday’s proceedings were delayed briefly after Edwards did not indicate she believed her actions were wrong, instead suggesting she was a whistleblower.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods could sentence Edwards to five years in prison when she next appears before him June 9.