Trevor Timm writes that the whistleblower has agreed to plead guilty to one count under the Espionage Act and serve a sentence of 63 months in prison plus another three years of supervised release. Her lawyers felt that given the enormous resources that the government has, all the roadblocks that they threw up against her lawyers to provide a reasonable defense, and their sheer bloody-minded vindictiveness, this was the best outcome she could hope for.
“Despite the fact that Winner’s disclosure served the public interest by alerting Americans to vulnerabilities in our voting system, the Trump-Sessions Justice Department prosecuted her with vicious resolve under the Espionage Act,” said The Intercept’s Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed in a statement. “Her plea agreement reflects the conclusion of Winner and her lawyers that the terms of this deal represent the best outcome possible for her in the current environment. She not only faced unrelenting pressure from prosecutors, but a series of setbacks in the courtroom severely restricted her lawyers’ ability to defend her.”
Reed added, “She deserves better from her country, as do all journalistic sources who put themselves at risk for the greater good.”
While it’s a tragedy that Winner will now have to spend five years behind bars for releasing information about a critical issue of public importance to the media, ultimately no one can blame her for taking the plea deal. No doubt the stress of being held in jail awaiting trial for well over a year would be incredibly hard on anyone. She had been painted into a corner by an unjust law, aggressive prosecutors, and a harsh judge. Winner could have faced up to 10 years in prison if she was convicted at trial.
The deck was stacked against her from the outset and throughout the pre-trial hearings.
IN WINNER’S CASE, the prosecution demanded debilitating secrecy restrictions that hampered the defense team for over a year. Prosecutors attempted to convince the judge that they didn’t even need to prove that the document Winner was alleged to have leaked even potentially could have harmed national security.
The judge also denied motion after motion brought by the defense. Winner was denied bail at the outset of the case, despite there being no evidence that she had any other classified documents in her possession. It also did not matter that virtually everyone else charged under the Espionage Act for leaking something in the last two decades was granted bail. The judge then rejected the vast majority of Winner’s discovery requests, including her subpoenas to federal agencies and state election officials who could corroborate the importance of the document she was alleged to have released.
The goal of the Trump administration’s vicious war on whistleblowers is the same as Obama’s vicious war, to deter potential future whistleblowing, because if there is one thing that the government, whoever is in power, cannot stand it is having their mistakes and wrongdoings exposed.
I hope that Winner emerges from her period of incarceration without being too scarred.