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Senior Treasury Department employee charged with leaking documents related to Russia probe

Senior Treasury Department employee charged with leaking documents related to Russia probe
Paul Manafort, left, and his aide Rick Gates on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 17, 2016. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

A senior Treasury Department employee was charged Wednesday with leaking confidential government reports about suspicious financial transactions related to the special counsel's probe of Russian election interference and Trump associates.

The charges reflect the latest move in the Trump administration's effort to root out leakers within the government. Earlier this week, a former senior Senate staffer pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents in a separate leak investigation.

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The Treasury Department case centers on a dozen stories published by BuzzFeed News that described suspicious activity reports, or SARs, which are generated by banks when a financial transaction may involve illegal activity.

Prosecutors charged Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards with the unauthorized disclosure of suspicious activity reports and conspiracy. The charges were filed in federal court in New York but she is scheduled to make her first court appearance in Northern Virginia, officials said.

Edwards, 40, works as a senior advisor at the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, often referred to as FinCEN.

Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Edwards "betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information."

The stories cited in the criminal complaint filed against Edwards match the headlines, wording and information contained in BuzzFeed News stories, though the court papers did not identify the company by name.

The 18-page criminal complaint details a search of Edwards' phone and a flash drive she possessed, on which FBI agents say they found a lengthy digital trail of her interactions with the reporters, in which she shared SARs reports.

"The majority of the files were saved to a folder on the flash drive entitled 'Debacle - Operation-CF,' and sub-folders bearing names such as 'Debacle\Emails\Asshat'," the complaint stated. "Edwards is not known to be involved in any official FinCEN project or task bearing these file titles or code names."

The flash drive files "appear to contain thousands of SARs, along with other highly sensitive material relating to Russia, Iran, and the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," the complaint alleges.

When FBI agents questioned Edwards on Tuesday, she initially denied having contacts with the reporter whose name appears on the stories at issue, then "changed her account, and admitted that on numerous occasions, she accessed SARs on her computer, photographed them, and sent those photographs to Reporter-1" using an encrypted application on her phone, according to the complaint.

The court filing said Edwards referred to herself as a whistleblower in the interview, but added while she had previously filed a whistleblower complaint related to her work, that did not involve the SARs disclosures.

The court documents also indicate the FBI has investigated one of Edwards' bosses, an associate director of FinCEN, noting that person exchanged 325 text messages with the reporter in question during the month when the first story appeared citing SARs reports.

A BuzzFeed representative did not immediately return a call for comment, nor did a FinCEN spokesman.

11 a.m.: This article has been updated with more details.

This article was originally published at 9:35 a.m.

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