Federal agents on Wednesday announced the arrest of a senior Treasury Department official for allegedly giving highly sensitive financial records related to the Russia investigation to reporters. In a criminal complaint, prosecutors say Natalie Edwards “unlawfully disclosed” what are known as Suspicious Activity Reports about key figures in the probe to BuzzFeed News, which published a series of articles purportedly drawing upon the reports over the past year.
Edwards allegedly gained access to the reports while working as a senior advisor for the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The office, more commonly known as FinCEN, is one of the most prestigious federal law-enforcement divisions. American financial institutions are legally required to notify FinCEN about potentially illegal transactions or patterns of activity. Those Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, can contain a wealth of sensitive personal and financial details.
BuzzFeed News’s reports over the past year traced the cash flows surrounding Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and other key figures in the Russia investigation with astounding detail. A similar series of articles by the same journalists shed light on transactions by alleged spy Maria Butina, former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and other Russian figures. The Justice Department alleges that Edwards sent pictures of the SARs to the journalists through encrypted messaging apps and stored a collection of them on a portable flash drive.
Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has gone to great lengths to squelch leaks about the Russia investigation. NSA contractor Reality Winner received a five-year prison sentence in August after she pleaded guilty to sending a classified report on Russian hacking to The Intercept, while former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe pleaded guilty on Monday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters. President Donald Trump is an enthusiastic proponent of hunting down journalists’ sources and silencing whistleblowers, building on precedents set by his predecessor Barack Obama.