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US arrests Treasury official over leaks to Buzzfeed

October 17, 2018

A US Treasury official has been arrested for leaking secret reports to Buzzfeed on money transfers involving key figures in the Russia election meddling probe, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior advisor at the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), was arrested Tuesday in Virginia, according to the indictment announced by the Justice Department.

It was the latest move in an administration crackdown on media leaks as pressure builds on US President Donald Trump over special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into whether his campaign worked with the Russians during the 2016 presidential elections.

The indictment refers to a series of Buzzfeed scoops on Treasury investigations of suspect money transfers by Russians that might relate to the Russian meddling.

The indictment said Edwards, 40, leaked official “suspicious activity reports” (SARS) that banks file with FinCEN to alert them of potentially illegal transactions.

Those reports involved now-convicted former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort; Manafort’s campaign deputy Richard Gates; accused Russian spy Maria Butina; the Russian Embassy; and Prevezon Alexander, a company controlled by Russian-Israeli businessman Denis Katsyv, who is linked to several figures in the investigation.

Neither Buzzfeed nor Leopold were named in the indictment, but the indictment clearly indicated both by detailing the headlines and dates of the articles. Buzzfeed did not respond to a request for comment.

SARs “are not public documents, and it is an independent federal crime to disclose them outside of one’s official duties,” said Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for Manhattan.

“We hope today’s charges remind those in positions of trust within government agencies that the unlawful sharing of sensitive documents will not be tolerated and will be met with swift justice by this Office.”

One article mentioned in the indictment, published in August, focused on “suspicious” cash withdrawals made by a Republican operative in 2016 that Buzzfeed suggested could relate to seeking stolen emails of Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton.

In an article published Monday on a US bank’s finances with the Katsyv company, Buzzfeed said the Treasury probes “are not only shaping the Russia investigation, they are also beginning to reveal a deeper pattern of behavior by Kremlin associates, who for years have moved their funds across the globe and tapped Western banks to wash their money.”

The arrest underscored the Trump administration’s intensifying fight against leaks. The Justice Department is said to have opened more than 20 leak investigations since early 2017.

Last year a contractor to the National Security Agency was arrested for leaking then-classified information on Russian attempts to hack US election systems to The Intercept, a rival to Buzzfeed in publishing national security-related scoops.

The Edwards’ indictment said investigators obtained a search warrant to access her cellphone and encrypted communications.

After being questioned, she admitted providing the SARS to the reporter but did not intend the information to be published, it said.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.