Reality Winner, the whistleblower jailed in 2017 for leaking classified NSA documents to the press, has been released from prison, her attorney confirmed to Gizmodo on Monday.
“I am thrilled to announce that Reality Winner has been released from prison,” said civil rights lawyer Alison Grinter, in a statement circulated on social media. “She is still in custody in the residential reentry process, but we are relieved and hopeful.”
Grinter said via phone that Winner’s sentence was technically supposed to end in November of this year and that her early release was the result of good behavior and the start of a normal reintegration process.
A U.S. Air Force veteran and former NSA contractor, Winner was arrested in 2017 for sharing classified information about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Winner mailed a classified report to The Intercept that appeared to show Russian attempts to hack dozens of local election offices throughout the country. The outlet subsequently published the material. At the time, the integrity of the 2016 election was a highly politicized issue—with ongoing sparring between President Trump and the U.S. intelligence community over the severity of Russian interference efforts.
In 2018, Winner pleaded guilty to one felony count of unauthorized transmission of national defense information and was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison—a record sentence for that type of crime. She served her time at a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
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Grinter said Monday that there was an ongoing effort to get a presidential pardon for Winner.
“We’re still absolutely pressing for commutation,” said the attorney. “She should have never spent any of this time in prison. Her suffering was basically to appease one man’s feelings about the legitimacy of his election,” she said, in reference to Trump.
Grinter said that all of the paperwork for a commutation of Winner’s sentence had been filed in January 2020. “You apply and very often never hear anything,” she said while adding that her office would continue to advocate for the pardon.
As to what Winner will be doing in the near future, Grinter couldn’t say. “Her family really wants privacy right now,” she said.
Apple didn’t know the Department of Justice was requesting metadata of Democratic lawmakers when it complied with a subpoena during a Trump-era leak investigation, CNBC reports. Apple wasn’t the only tech giant tapped in these probes: Microsoft received a similar subpoena for a congressional staffer’s personal email account, it confirmed Friday. Both companies were under DOJ gag orders preventing them from notifying the affected users for years.
These instances are part of a growing list of questionable shit the DOJ carried out under former President Donald Trump amid his crusade to crack down on government leakers. The agency also quietly went after phone and email records of journalists at the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times to uncover their sources, none of whom were notified until last month.
On Thursday, a New York Times report revealed that a Trump-led DOJ seized records from two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee who were frequently targeted in the president’s tantrums: California Representatives Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff (Schiff now chairs the committee). The subpoena extended to at least a dozen people connected to them, including aides, family members, and one minor, in an attempt to identify sources related to news reports on Trump’s contacts with Russia. All told, prosecutors found zero evidence in this seized data, but their efforts have prompted the Justice Department’s inspector general to launch an inquiry into the agency’s handling of leak investigations during the Trump administration.
Apple told CNBC it received a subpoena from a federal grand jury on Feb. 6, 2018. The DOJ requested metadata for a seemingly random group of 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses and provided “no information” about the nature of the investigation, Apple told TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker. The company provided the outlet with the following statement:
“We regularly challenge warrants, subpoenas and nondisclosure orders and have made it our policy to inform affected customers of governmental requests about them just as soon as possible. In this case, the subpoena, which was issued by a federal grand jury and included a nondisclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge, provided no information on the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts. Consistent with the request, Apple limited the information it provided to account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or pictures.”
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A non-disclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge prevented Apple from notifying the affected users until the gag order was lifted on May 5, CNBC reports. Due to the nature of the subpoena, Apple added that it believed other tech companies received similar orders.
Microsoft confirmed as much to the outlet on Friday. The company said it received a DOJ subpoena related to a personal email account in 2017, but due to a gag order, it was unable to notify the affected user for more than two years. Once the gag order was lifted, Microsoft contacted the user and learned they were a congressional staffer. Moving forward, the company said it will “continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this.”
You can read Microsoft’s statement in full below:
“In 2017 Microsoft received a subpoena related to a personal email account. As we’ve said before, we believe customers have a constitutional right to know when the government requests their email or documents, and we have a right to tell them. In this case, we were prevented from notifying the customer for more than two years because of a gag order. As soon as the gag order expired, we notified the customer who told us they were a congressional staffer. We then provided a briefing to the representative’s staff following that notice. We will continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this.”
Over the years, administrations from both sides of the aisle have subpoenaed journalist records as part of leak investigations. However, it’s virtually unheard of for the records of lawmakers to be seized in these investigations, current and former congressional officials familiar with the matter told the Times this week.
Media outlets and lawmakers have put the previous administration and DOJ on blast in the wake of these revelations. In a Friday statement, Swalwell, whose data had been sought, strongly condemned the former president:
“Like many of the world’s most despicable dictators, former President Trump showed an utter disdain for our democracy and the rule of law.”
Last week, the DOJ promised to stop quietly seizing journalists’ records in leak investigations moving forward.
It recently came to light that the Trump-era Department of Justice quietly seized phone records of journalists at the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times to suss out their sources as part of the administration’s rabid crackdown on leakers. Well, apparently the witch hunt didn’t stop there: In 2017 and 2018, a grand jury compelled Apple to fork over metadata from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, according to a Thursday report from the New York Times.
The subpoena also covered records from at least a dozen people connected to the committee members, including aides, family members, and one minor. Records of Representative Adam Schiff of California, committee chairman and a frequent target of Trump’s playground insults, were among those seized, sources familiar with the matter told the Times.
Apple provided the agency with metadata and account information, but did not share photos, emails, or other content, a person familiar with the inquiry told the Times. But that’s hardly a comfort given the well-demonstrated fact that you can still learn a shit ton about a person from their metadata—where they are, what they’re up to—especially when combined with publicly available info such as their social media posts.
All told, prosecutors found no evidence within the seized data that tied the committee members to leakers. Apple was under a gag order from the DOJ that prohibited the company from publicly discussing the matter, according to the Times. That order expired this year, at which point Apple contacted the committee members, who purportedly did not know they were even being investigated. The Post, Times, and CNN similarly had no clue their reporters had been under federal investigation until the DOJ notified each outlet in recent weeks.
Over the years, administrations from both sides of the aisle have relied on court orders to obtain journalists’ records as part of leak investigations. Even still, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry told the Times that they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers were also seized in these cases.
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In the wake of the report, Schiff called for the Inspector General to investigate Trump’s “weaponization of law enforcement” in what he denounced as a “terrible abuse of power.”
“It also makes the Department of Justice just a fully owned subsidiary of the president’s personal legal interests and political interests,” he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Thursday.
The DOJ promised to stop secretly obtaining the records of journalists on Saturday after coming under fire from media outlets, lawmakers, and President Joe Biden, who condemned the practice as “simply, simply wrong” in response to the agency’s latest disclosures.
The Department of Justice quietly seized phone records and tried to obtain email records for three Washington Post reporters, ostensibly over their coverage of then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election, according to officials and government letters reviewed by the Post.
Justice Department regulations typically mandate that news organizations be notified when it subpoenas such records. However, though the Trump administration OK’d the decision, officials apparently left the notification part for the Biden administration to deal with. I guess they just never got around to it. Probably too busy inspiring an insurrection and trying to overthrow the presidential election.
In three separate letters dated May 3 addressed to reporters Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller, and former reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017,” according to the Post. Listed were Miller’s work and cellphone numbers, Entous’ cellphone number, and Nakashima’s work, cellphone, and home phone numbers. These records included all calls to and from the phones as well as how long each call lasted but did not reveal what was said.
According to the letters, the Post reports that prosecutors also secured a court order to seize “non content communications records” for the reporters’ email accounts, which would disclose who emailed whom and when the emails were sent but not their contents. However, officials ultimately did not obtain these records, the outlet said.
“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” said the Post’s acting executive editor Cameron Barr. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”
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Frustratingly, the letters apparently don’t go into why the Department of Justice seized this data. A department spokesperson told the outlet that the decision to do so was made in 2020 during the Trump administration. (It’s worth noting that former President Donald Trump has made it crystal clear that he despises news media and the government leakers that provide them their scoops.)
Based on the time period cited in the letters and what the reporters covered during those months, the Post speculates that their investigations into Sessions and Russian interference could be why the department wanted to get its hands on their phone data.
During that time period, the three reporters published a story detailing federal correspondence that indicated then-Sen. Sessions of Alabama had discussed the Trump campaign in 2016 with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time. In that same period, the reporters also wrote about how the Obama administration struggled to counter Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sessions, who later acted as Trump’s attorney general from 2017 to 2018, held a news conference in August 2017, just four days after the time period cited in the letters, where he committed to ramping up efforts to suss out and prosecute government leakers.
“This culture of leaking must stop,” Sessions said at the time.
For the Justice Department to subpoena records of reporters, it must have exhausted all possible avenues for obtaining that information and secured the attorney general’s approval, according to the agency’s regulations. On Friday, Justice Departmentspokesperson Marc Raimondi told the Post it’s considered a last resort that the agency doesn’t take lightly:
“While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information. The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”
Regardless, the news sparked fierce condemnation from media organizations, who argued the Justice Department’s actions may have violated the First Amendment. Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called it “imperative” that the Justice Department explain its reasoning and why the agency is only just now notifying the Post months after the decision was made.
“It is imperative that the new Justice Department leadership explain exactly when prosecutors seized these records, why it is only now notifying the Post, and on what basis the Justice Department decided to forgo the presumption of advance notification under its own guidelines when the investigation apparently involves reporting over three years in the past,” he said a statement issued Friday.