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Reality Winner, the former intelligence contractor imprisoned for leaking a top secret report on Russian hacking, said Friday that she was “blown away” by the level of detail in the unsealed indictment against Donald Trump.
Winner became the first person to be prosecuted and then sentenced under the Trump administration for defying the Espionage Act by leaking classified information. Now Trump faces 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information — in violation of the Espionage Act — as well as other counts related to making false statements and conspiring to obstruct justice.
“This is probably one of the most egregious and cut-and-dry cases,” Winner, 31, said in a phone interview with NBC News of the allegations that Trump held onto sensitive government documents and attempted to mislead investigators.
Follow live updates on Trump’s latest indictment
FBI agents in August seized a trove of top secret and classified papers from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. At the time, Trump said he did not oppose the Justice Department’s motion to disclose the documents to the public and argued that everything he had taken from the White House “was all declassified.”
Trump aide Walt Nauta was also indicted on federal criminal charges in connection with the investigation.
The indictment against Trump marks the first time a former president is facing federal charges.
Winner has said that she considers the application of the Espionage Act inconsistent and vague. Civil liberties groups have similarly argued that the law needs to be updated and should be clearer about what is considered prohibited conduct while also maintaining free speech safeguards for whistleblowing activities.
But Winner said the indictment against Trump is remarkable for its specificity on what he allegedly took and that there was no indication he was acting for the greater good of the public.
According to the indictment, the documents “included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the U.S. and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for a possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.”
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and maintained the documents were his to do with as he pleased.
Winner said she hopes that the indictment can serve as a guidepost for when the Espionage Act is used against others and that it could ultimately protect whistleblowers and journalists.
“This is probably one of the most transparent and straightforward indictments that defines national defense information and gives the public a sense of the itemized description of every document, which is not how this particular law has been used against ordinary citizens,” Winner said. “So this might set the new legal standard on how it will be used in the future. Perhaps it could give people like myself who were acting out of moral conscience more leverage under the law.”
Winner had been working for national security contractor Pluribus International at Fort Gordon in Georgia when prosecutors say she smuggled out a classified report in her pantyhose detailing the Russian government’s efforts to pierce a Florida-based voting software supplier ahead of the 2016 presidential election. That information was later reported by The Intercept news outlet.
Winner said she was motivated to act on a belief that the American public wasn’t getting the full truth.
In an interview with NBC News in September, she said she recognized that she broke the law and she wouldn’t do what she did again. Instead, she said, she would have gone through “proper channels” to raise her concerns as a whistleblower.
She said Friday that she still doesn’t believe Trump should go to prison if he is convicted, but he could be placed under house arrest or face an alternative form of punishment.
“There’s no personal satisfaction in seeing someone I might disagree with face legal consequences,” Winner said.
Her more restrained view surrounding the former president, whose administration took a hard line on going after people accused of national security leaks, comes after she was released from prison in June 2021 to a halfway house due to good behavior. Winner was sentenced in 2018 to more than five years on a single count of transmitting national security information — then the longest federal prison sentence imposed for leaks to the news media.
Her life story is now the subject of an HBO drama, “Reality,” which began streaming last month on Max and features “White Lotus” star Sydney Sweeney in the title role.
Winner said she has not watched the movie and couldn’t get through the trailer after finding it “triggering.”
But she applauds the film’s director, Tina Satter, for transforming what was initially a stage play based on Winner’s actual FBI interrogation transcript into a movie. She also said she’s rooting for Sweeney.
“I’m so excited for her,” Winner said. “It’s amazing for a young starlet to play a role where you don’t have to be sexy.”