Before she was charged with leaking U.S. government secrets to a reporter, Reality Leigh Winner shared sometimes scathing opinions on President Donald Trump and his policies for the whole world to see.
The 25-year-old U.S. government contractor has worked since February in Augusta, Georgia, for a federal agency that neither prosecutors nor her defence lawyer will name and where she had access to sensitive documents. But the secretive nature of her job didn’t stop Winner from speaking freely on politics and other topics on social media accounts accessible to anyone.
She posted on Facebook three months ago that climate change is a more important issue than health care “since not poisoning an entire population seems to be more in line with ‘health’ care, and not the disease care system that people voted for a soulless ginger orangutan to ‘fix.”‘
Winner remained locked up Tuesday on federal charges that she made copies of classified documents containing top-secret material and mailed them to an online news organization. She was scheduled to appear before a federal judge Thursday for a detention hearing.
In her spare time, Winner lifted weights and taught the occasional yoga class. She served six years in the Air Force before she moved to Georgia early this year, according to her mother, Billie Winner-Davis. Reporters gathered Tuesday outside Winner’s small, red-brick home in a neighbourhood dotted with overgrown yards and houses in disrepair.
“She’s got a good heart,” Winner-Davis said. “She serves her community, she served her country. She believes in always doing what’s right.”
Gary Davis, Winner’s stepfather, said she turned down a full college scholarship to join the Air Force. Court records say Winner held a top-secret security clearance.
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“I know my daughter. She’s a patriot,” Davis said. “She served with distinction in one of the highest classified jobs in the Air Force.”
Winner’s mother said she was stunned when her daughter called over the weekend, saying the FBI had come to her home and she was being arrested. Winner asked if her mother and stepfather, who live in Texas, would travel to Georgia to help feed her cat.
“Mainly she was concerned about her cat,” Winner-Davis said.
Court documents accuse Winner of mailing a classified report written on or about May 5 to an unnamed news organization. The website The Intercept reported Monday it had obtained a classified National Security Agency report dated May 5 suggesting Russian hackers attacked at least one U.S. voting software supplier days before last year’s presidential election.
Winner’s defence attorney, Titus Thomas Nichols, would not confirm whether she was being charged with leaking the NSA report cited by The Intercept.
On social media, Winner mostly shared glimpses into her life far removed from politics – such as watching Dr. Who with her cat and serving her family a vegetarian meal of barbecued jackfruit.
“I just know she cares about her world and taking care of people and animals,” Winner-Davis said. “I never termed her as a political activist at all, ever.”
But Winner’s Facebook page does mention reaching out to Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, after Trump nominated Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
And in an angry reply to a report that Trump said he wasn’t hearing complaints about building the Dakota Access oil pipeline, Winner wrote on Facebook: “I’m losing my mind. If you voted for this piece of (expletive), explain this. He’s lying.”
In the legal case, authorities say Winner admitted to leaking the classified report once government officials traced her as the source.
An affidavit by FBI agent Justin Garrick said the government found out about the leaked documents from the news outlet that received them. He said the agency that housed the report was able to identify six people – including Winner – who had made copies of the report.
A pattern of tiny yellow dots on the leaked documents themselves would also have offered the government a way to track down the alleged leaker, security blog Errata noted late Monday. At the request of the government, recent model colour printers automatically leave a unique stamp on the documents they produce.
Asked if Winner had confessed, Nichols said, “If there is a confession, the government has not shown it to me.”