NEW YORK — A senior Treasury Department official pleaded guilty on Monday to leaking confidential financial reports, after being charged with disclosing information related to Russia and President Donald Trump’s associates.
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior adviser at Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, entered the guilty plea to one count of conspiracy in federal court in Manhattan.
She admitted to leaking suspicious-activity reports, which financial institutions file to flag questionable transactions.
Edwards was arrested in 2018 and accused of providing information for articles in BuzzFeed News, including reports concerning the financial transactions of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. She initially pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Her attorney, Marc Agnifilo, said she had the best of intentions in disclosing the information to BuzzFeed. Other information related to Manafort’s former associate Rick Gates, the Russian Embassy and Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist who admitted being an agent for the Kremlin and received an 18-months prison sentence.
“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 of Edwards. “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, 41, who lives in Virginia, could face a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison. She agreed in a plea deal not to challenge a sentence of zero to six months. Her attorney said she would argue for no prison time.
She’s scheduled to be sentenced on June 9 by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Woods.
Edwards declined to say she knew what she did was wrong, and suggested she believed she was acting as a whistleblower. Her statements briefly delayed the plea hearing, until she ultimately said she knew she was not legally allowed to release the information.
Her attorneys said they concluded that her motivations would not provide a viable defense under the law and that it was best to plead guilty.
Edwards plans to speak out about her actions at her sentencing, Agnifilo said. He said she had been in touch with congressional subcommittees about the information she found before going to the media, but declined to say whether she sought whistleblower status. She was joined in court by her family, including her teenage daughter.
“They’re all taking it really hard. I think it’s a really sad day for all of them,” Agnifilo said. “She was motivated by things that she believed were important. She brought issues that she thought were important, compelling issues to the press so that the press could bring them to the people. She didn’t trust that the government was doing the right thing with these issues. And I think that gives a daughter every reason to be proud of her mother.”