President Trump received kudos Thursday from Reality Winner, a former National Security Agency contractor recently ordered to spend more than five years in prison for leaking a classified report involving Russian election meddling, after condemning her sentencing last week as “so unfair.”
In her first televised interview since being sentenced a week earlier to 63 months in federal prison, Winner thanked Mr. Trump Thursday in light of the president having criticized the ruling from his Twitter account days earlier.
“Even our commander in chief, President Trump, has kind of come out and said, ‘Wait a minute, this is really unfair. There’s this double standard here.’ And for that I can’t thank him enough,” Winner, 26, told CBS News during a phone interview conducted from Lincoln County Jail in Lincolnton, Georgia.
A former Air Force linguist, Winner was arrested in June 2017 and charged in connection with violating the U.S. Espionage Act by leaking classified material obtained while working for a private contracting firm that provides services to the nation’s defense and intelligence communities.
Court documents lack specifics concerning Winner’s crime, but she is presumed to be the source of a top-secret NSA report leaked to The Intercept news site. The report detailed alleged Russian cyberattacks waged against U.S. targets during the 2016 presidential race and formed the basis of an article published by The Intercept the same day authorities announced Winner’s arrest.
Winner initially faced up to 10 years behind bars, but she pleaded guilty earlier this year to a single count of willful retention and transmission of national defense information and reached an agreement with federal prosecutors who recommended the 63-month sentence delivered last week.
Mr. Trump reacted to Winner’s sentencing last Friday from his Twitter account in a tweet criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not similarly prosecuting Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
“I just can’t thank him enough for finally saying what everybody has been thinking for 16 months,” Winner told CBS on Thursday. “I don’t like to assume anything as to what’s going on in his head, but the ‘small potatoes’ was a breath of fresh air. It really made me laugh. It reminded me of me and my own family. We try to make a joke out of everything. We laugh every single day no matter how bad things get, and he really gave a whole sense of humor to the thing ‘cause it is quite bizarre,” she said.
Winner was less appreciative of Mr. Trump prior to her arrest. A Twitter account previously linked to Winner once called Mr. Trump an “orange fascist,” and prosecutors claimed in court that she wrote in her journal about wanting to “burn the White House down.”
The Intercept article based on the leaked NSA report alleged that Russian hackers had attempted to compromise a company that manufactures elected-relation software and hardware months prior to the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has subsequently indicted several Russian nationals accused of related criminal activity as part of his probe into the 2016 race.
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