By Brendan Pierson
NEWYORK (Reuters) – A lawyer for a U.S. Treasury Department employee charged with leaking to a journalist confidential documents on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and others, said on Friday that his client was motivated by public service.
Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates have pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to cooperate in U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign coordinated with Moscow.
Russia denies election meddling and Trump denies campaign collusion.
Prosecutors said Natalie Sours Edwards, a senior adviser in the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), leaked documents to a reporter that became the basis of articles about that investigation published by digital media company BuzzFeed.
“She saw things in her official capacity that she felt an obligation to bring forward,” Marc Agnifilo, a lawyer for Sours Edwards, told reporters after a hearing in federal court in Manhattan.
During Friday’s brief hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn ordered that Sours Edwards may remain free on bail. She had previously pleaded not guilty at a hearing in Virginia, according to Agnifilo. She is currently on paid leave from her position.
Prosecutors said beginning in October 2017, Sours Edwards illegally disclosed so-called suspicious activity reports connected to Manafort, accused Russian agent Maria Butina, the Russian embassy and a unit of Prevezon Holdings Ltd, a corporation owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.
Suspicious activity reports are submitted by banks to alert law enforcement to potentially illegal transactions.
Information from the disclosures was reported in 11 articles that appeared in BuzzFeed over the course of a year, prosecutors said.
Agnifilo said Sours Edwards shared the reports because “she believes that certain pieces of information were not being handled the right way and were not being brought to the attention of the people who should know it,” though he did not give further details.
He said Sours Edwards had also spoken to committees in Congress and to other government agencies about her concerns, and that her contact with the media was a relatively small part of her efforts.
“It’s been going on for several years,” he said.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Grant McCool)