A federal judge is expected to rule next week whether to allow Reality Leigh Winner out of jail pending her trial in the National Security Agency leak investigation.
In a five-and-a-half-hour hearing Friday in Augusta, parts of which were closed to discuss classified material, U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps said he needed more time to do research and go through recent filings before issuing his decision.
Epps, who initially denied bail for Winner in June, said he would closely weigh two central concerns centered on whether her release would threaten national security and whether she might find a way out of the country. “It’s not, ‘she’s going to flee to Florida,’” he said, “but, ‘is she going to flee overseas?’”
The former Air Force linguist has pleaded not guilty to a charge of leaking an NSA report about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election to The Intercept, an online news publication. She worked as a federal contractor in Augusta.
A trial in the case, originally scheduled for Oct. 23, is now expected to start March 19.
The bail decision will come as court filings as recently as this week continue to paint divergent pictures of Winner, 25, who is the first accused leaker to be prosecuted by the Trump administration.
Transcripts and records submitted by federal prosecutors appear to show a disappointed and disillusioned young woman, someone who hated America “like three times a day” and called the country “literally the worst thing to happen on the planet. We invented capitalism (and) the downfall of the environment.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Solari repeatedly warned that Winner remains a flight risk, saying her presence in the community would be a threat to the public. She said Winner, if released, could leak more sensitive documents and that she had handled enough classified material to be valuable to countries who wished the United States harm.
“The government put trust in this defendant once, and paid a price for it,” Solari said. “Just a single disclosure of sensitive information the defendant knows could be catastrophic to this country.”
But Winner’s mother and sister, who both testified, said those comments had been taken out of context. Winner, they said, was creative, smart and loving, someone who always emphasized not holding grudges and helping people.
“She wanted to make a difference in a good way,” her sister, Brittany, said of Winner, who sat straight-backed throughout the hearing.
Winner’s attorneys are also citing other cases in which accused leakers have been allowed to remain free pending their trials, including retired Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director in 2012 before pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials.
They said Winner had no intention of fleeing, had no criminal convictions and would be staying with her mom, who temporarily moved to Georgia from Texas last weekend to support her daughter.
“I can’t imagine anyone I know who’d feel in danger of Reality Winner living down the street,” said one of her attorneys, John Bell.