U.S. Treasury official charged with leaks linked to Russia probe

(Reuters) – A U.S. Treasury Department official has been criminally charged with leaking confidential documents relating to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the Russian embassy and others, to a reporter from digital media company BuzzFeed, Manhattan federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Natalie May Edwards, a senior adviser in the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), was arrested on Tuesday and charged with unauthorized disclosure of suspicious activity reports and with conspiracy, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Edwards, 40, was expected to make an initial appearance in Virginia federal court later in the day. A lawyer for Edwards could not immediately be reached for comment.

Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for BuzzFeed, had no immediate comment.

Suspicious activity reports are submitted by banks to alert law enforcement to potentially illegal transactions. Prosecutors said that beginning in October 2017, Edwards disclosed suspicious activity reports connected to Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates, the Russian embassy and accused Russian agent Maria Butina.

The disclosures were reported in a series of articles in BuzzFeed related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible coordination between U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign and Russia, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Edwards saved the confidential reports on a flash drive and sent them to the BuzzFeed reporter using an encrypted messaging application. They said that at the time of her arrest, she was in possession of what appeared to be that flash drive, and a cell phone containing communications with the reporter.

Manafort was convicted in August of tax and bank fraud charges, and in September pleaded guilty to a separate conspiracy charge, agreeing to cooperate with authorities in the Russia investigation. The charges against Mueller involve conduct predating Trump’s campaign.

Gates pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and making false statements to investigators, also agreeing to cooperate. Butina was ordered jailed in July while she awaits trial.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Tom Brown and Richard Chang

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