RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. - The Georgia contractor indicted on charges she leaked Russian election intelligence info to the media is asking the court to throw out her interrogation statements.
Reality Winner’s defense filed a motion to suppress the evidence last week, claiming the contractor was restrained in her home prior to arrest, and not read her Miranda rights.
Winner, 25, is in jail and awaiting trial to face the charge of “willful retention and transmission of national defense information.” She’s accused of removing classified material from an Augusta government facility where she worked and mailing it to an online news outlet.
Winner pleaded not guilty in federal court in Augusta on June 6.
Earlier that day, Channel 2’s Nicole Carr got an exclusive look inside the room where Winner was interrogated, after the woman’s parents invited the crew inside the home. They were concerned Winner had no chance at a fair trial due to the high-profile nature of the charges and widespread threats.
Channel 2 legal analyst Esther Panitch weighed in on the motion.
“If she’s more concerned about the court of public opinion, well then, she’s probably lost that argument,” Panitch said. “If she’s more concerned with what her punishment will be if she’s convicted, or that she’s convicted at all, this is the route she needs to take.”
WINNER’S SIDE OF THE STORY
For the first time, Winner explains what happened inside her home prior to her June 3 arrest.Newly filed court documents indicate the woman was surrounded by nearly a dozen armed FBI agents during a raid at her house.
Winner explained that she returned home from the grocery store and was eventually asked to enter that 7 foot by 9 foot room in the back of her home. Winner says she told the armed agents it was “creepy” and “weird” and she “did not like to go back there.”
Winner goes on to say the interrogation continued with agents blocking the doorway.
According to the declaration she submitted to the court, at one point Winner explained the following:
“I specifically told law enforcement that ‘whatever we were using had already been compromised, and that this report was just going to be like a one drop in the bucket.”
She was told she was “the most likely candidate” of the document leak, and this was her “opportunity to tell the truth.” At the same time, Winner says she was told by the agents that she likely “just made a mistake,” and she had a “good career.” If she’d leak the document for a political reason, Winner said she was told by the agents that “they’d feel better that they didn’t have a ‘real serious problem’ on their hands."
Winner would eventually be directed to stand in her front yard. She by two female agents who arrived after the interrogation, she said.
Her defense argued that even though Winner wasn’t handcuffed during the interrogation, she was restrained by heavy presence of armed agents.
“The government’s burden is to prove the statement was voluntarily and knowingly given, and it wasn’t coerced in any way,” Panitch explained.
Panitch explained that prosecutors will argue Winner was in the comfort of her own home and free to leave or refuse to answer the questions, but the circumstances may make that a hard argument.
“If you’re surrounded by armed agents and they’re not going to let you walk around in your house alone because they’re executing a search warrant, do you really feel like you’re able to leave?” Panitch asked. “I would challenge most people to try and get up and leave that situation and see how comfortable you would feel.”
NEW TRIAL DATE
There’s no published timetable on when the court will hear the suppression motion in an evidentiary hearing.
Meanwhile, Winner was originally scheduled to begin trial in late October, but the court has granted the defense more time to review classified documents. It’s a challenging task considering the number of security clearances the growing team is having to land in a limited time period.
The new trial date is set for March 19, and will set the stage for leaker tolerance under the Trump administration.
“These are real issues that need to be dealt with and we will see the current administration’s policies going forward, using this case as an example,” Panitch said.
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