U.S. Treasury official charged with leaks linked to Russia probe

NEW YORK/ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) - A U.S. Treasury Department official has been criminally charged with leaking confidential documents relating to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and others to a reporter from digital media company BuzzFeed, Manhattan federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Natalie May Edwards, a senior adviser in the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), was arrested on Tuesday and charged with unauthorized disclosure of suspicious activity reports and with conspiracy, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates have pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to cooperate in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign coordinated with Russia. Prosecutors said Edwards leaked documents that became the basis of BuzzFeed articles about that investigation.

In federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan ordered that Edwards, 40, be released after surrendering her passport and posting a $100,000 bond.

Edwards’ lawyer, Peter Greenspun, declined to speak to reporters at the hearing.

Stephen Hudak, a spokesman for FinCEN, said Edwards had been placed on administrative leave.

Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for BuzzFeed, declined to comment.

In an interview with federal investigators on Tuesday, Edwards said she was a “whistleblower” who made the disclosures for “record keeping,” according to a criminal complaint filed by prosecutors.

Information from the disclosures was reported in 11 articles that appeared in BuzzFeed over the course of a year, prosecutors said.

Suspicious activity reports are submitted by banks to alert law enforcement to potentially illegal transactions. Prosecutors said beginning in October 2017, Edwards disclosed suspicious activity reports connected to Manafort, Gates, accused Russian agent Maria Butina, the Russian embassy and a unit of Prevezon Holdings Ltd, a corporation owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.

Prosecutors said Edwards saved the confidential reports on a flash drive and sent them to the BuzzFeed reporter using an encrypted messaging application.

Prosecutors also said in the complaint that the reporter exchanged encrypted messages with an unnamed associate director at FinCEN to whom Edwards reports, who was not charged in the case. Hudak and Richard Delmar, a spokesman for the Treasury Department’s internal investigative unit, both declined to comment on the allegations involving the associate director.

Butina was ordered jailed in July while she awaits trial.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York and Sarah N. Lynch in Alexandria, Virginia; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Tom Brown and Richard Chang