A senior Treasury Department official pleaded guilty Monday in Manhattan federal court to one count of conspiracy in a case in which prosecutors accused her of disclosing sensitive financial transaction reports related to people tied to President Donald Trump and Russia, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Prosecutors with the Manhattan US Attorney’s office had alleged that the official, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, leaked the documents, known as Suspicious Activity Reports, to a reporter whom CNN has previously identified as working for BuzzFeed News.
“I transmitted a file containing or disclosing the existence of a SAR,” Edwards, 41, said in court Monday. “I am sorry for what I have done and I apologize to you, your honor, and the court.”
Prosecutors alleged in court documents that for about a year beginning in the fall of 2017, Edwards leaked reports concerning Manafort, his business associate Rick Gates, the Russian Embassy and convicted Russian spy Maria Butina, among others.
Edwards, who was charged in October 2018, initially pleaded not guilty in January 2019 and was set to go to trial in March of this year.
Prosecutors had filed two charges against her: one count of unauthorized disclosure of Suspicious Activity Reports and one count of conspiracy to make such unauthorized disclosures. The charge to which she pleaded guilty — conspiracy — carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Though Edwards admitted Monday to conspiring to make the reports public, she hesitated when the judge asked if she understood what she did was illegal.
Her lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, suggested she had a benevolent motivation in disclosing the material, asking the court, “Are there circumstances where one can believe they are doing a greater good by doing it than by not doing it?”
Speaking to reporters after the proceeding, Agnifilo added, “I think she was of the view that certain critical facts weren’t being handled the right way by the government agencies whose responsibility it is to handle these things. And so I think she did something that will be near and dear to all of your hearts, which is that she went to the media.”
A spokesman for BuzzFeed declined to comment.
The type of report prosecutors accused Edwards of leaking is filed confidentially by banks and other financial institutions to flag for law-enforcement entities what they believe are possibly illegal transactions. Edwards’ unit at the Treasury Department maintains a centralized database of such reports, which can be accessed by law enforcement for investigations and other matters.
Assistant US Attorney Kimberly Ravener said Monday that the government’s evidence at trial would have included “numerous” communications from Edwards’ cell phone showing contacts with the reporter using an encrypted application and Treasury records that show Edwards saved SARs to a flash drive.
Edwards’ lawyer said that he wasn’t sure if she remained a Treasury Department employee as of Monday afternoon. US District Court Judge Gregory Woods set her sentencing date for June 9.
This story has been updated with additional information from Monday’s hearing.