NEW YORK (AP) — A former U.S. Treasury Department senior adviser pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy for leaking confidential banking reports related to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
Natalie Edwards, 41, of Quinton, Virginia, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court, where U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods set sentencing for June 9.
Although the conspiracy charge carries a potential penalty of up to five years in prison, Edwards signed a plea deal with prosecutors that recommends a potential prison sentence of zero to six months.
“I am sorry for what I have done and I apologize to you, your honor, and the court,” Edwards said.
Edwards was a senior adviser at Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN, when she was arrested in October 2018.
She was charged with giving a BuzzFeed journalist reports about wire transfers made by Paul Manafort and other suspects in Mueller's investigation.
Prosecutors said the crime began in October 2017 and continued for a year, with Edwards sending a reporter numerous suspicious activity reports. The reports are filed with the Treasury Department by banks when they spot transactions that raise questions about possible financial misconduct such as money laundering.
Edwards also sent or described to the reporter internal government emails or correspondence related to the reports and investigative memos and intelligence assessments published by her agency's intelligence division, prosecutors said.
When the judge asked her if she knew she was committing a crime, Edwards said she did not “know of the regulation” at the time but she knew about the federal Whistleblower Protection Act.
After consulting with her lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, she said she admitted that she agreed to disclose the financial reports.
She added: “I was not allowed under the law to disclose it.”
Outside court, Agnifilo said the case illustrated how “one's subjective motivations really do not serve as a defense.”
He said prosecutors were “probably of the view that she was more politically motivated than she was for some conception like the good of our republic.”
Agnifilo said his client believed “certain critical facts” weren't being handled in the right way by the government agencies tasked with handling them.
“She said: ‘You know, if I can’t trust government officials to handle this, I think I can trust the media to handle this and to bring this to the attention of the American people,’” the lawyer said.
Agnifilo said Edwards was in contact with Congressional subcommittees and others in government but didn't believe they were dealing adequately with the information she offered.
In a release, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Edwards violated the integrity of the system of suspicious activity reports that relies on banks and other financial institutions alerting law enforcement to potentially illegal transactions.