A former intelligence contractor who was imprisoned for leaking a report about Russian interference in the US presidential election that Donald Trump won in 2016 has insisted she acted out of love for a nation that was “being lied to”.
“I am not a traitor – I am not a spy,” Reality Winner said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes. “I am somebody who only acted out of love for what this country stands for.”
In some of her most extensive remarks about her case since she was freed from prison last year for good behavior, Winner portrayed herself living as normal a life as possible in Texas, teaching yoga and fitness while also being a pet owner, daughter and sister named after a pun of her family’s surname and her father’s wish to have a “real winner”.
The 30-year-old also gave perhaps the most detailed account yet about the day she decided to leave her National Security Agency contractor’s office at the Fort Gordon army base in Georgia with an intelligence report about Russian attempts to meddle in the election that saw Trump beat Hillary Clinton for the White House.
Working for NSA contractor Pluribus International Corporation, Winner printed the document – labeled “TOP SECRET” – that explained how Russian military intelligence officials hacked at least one supplier of voting software and tried to break into more than 100 local election systems before the polls closed in 2016.
She tucked the report into the pantyhose underneath her dress and walked out of her office at the Fort Gordon army base in Georgia before the document became the basis of an article published on the Intercept news site.
Federal authorities announced that Winner had been arrested about an hour after that article came out. The Trump administration had her charged under the Espionage Act, which was initially created during the first world war as a means to punish people spying on the US during times of foreign conflict.
Winner pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors that called for her to be sentenced to five years in prison beginning in 2018. She earned the right to an early release in June of 2021.
In Sunday’s interview, Winner said she broke her oath to protect classified material because Americans were being intentionally deceived about Russia’s efforts to sow chaos in the presidential election that vaulted Trump into the Oval Office. Winner hoped the report would end what some purported was confusion over whether or not Russia had meddled in the race that Clinton lost.
“The truth wasn’t true any more,” said Winner, who also served in the US air force between 2010 and 2016. “The public was being lied to.”
Winner said the leak “did not betray” the country’s “sources and methods” for obtaining sensitive intelligence.
“I knew it was secret,” Winner added. “But I also knew that I had pledged service to the American people. And at that point in time, it felt like they were being led astray.”
Her attorney, Alison Grinter Allen, also spoke to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.
Allen told Pelley that her client indeed broke the law but argued that Winner’s prosecution – the first of its kind during the Trump presidency – was little more than political retribution. The lawyer also said that she would help Winner pursue a pardon because her receiving one would be “the right thing for the country”.
Winner said her imprisonment was grueling, occurring during coronavirus lockdowns and the worldwide protests ignited by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. She said she contemplated dying by suicide and stopped those thoughts solely because of her loved ones, particularly her mother, and that she’s tried to “have a sense of accomplishment in having survived prison”.
“I try so hard not to frame things as being worth it or not worth it,” Winner said. “What I know is that I’m home with my parents. And we take our lives every day moving forward as being richer in knowing what to be grateful for.”