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Reality Winner, ex-NSA contractor, says she regrets leaking Russian hacking docs

She also thanked President Trump for a tweet in which he appeared to call her case "small potatoes."
Image: Reality Winner arrives at a courthouse in Augusta, Georgia
Reality Winner arrives at a courthouse in Augusta, Ga., on Aug. 23, 2018.Michael Holahan / The Augusta Chronicle via AP

Reality Winner, the former government contractor who was sentenced to more than five years in prison for leaking a classified report on Russian election interference to a news organization, said in a phone interview on Thursday that she "deeply" regrets her decision.

In her interview with "CBS This Morning," Winner said it had been "a little vindicating but also frustrating" to watch the Russian investigation unfold from behind bars at Lincoln County Jail in Georgia, where she is awaiting transfer to a federal prison.

She expressed gratitude to President Donald Trump, whose administration prosecuted her under the Espionage Act, for sending a tweet last week in which he appeared to say her case was "small potatoes" compared to the purported misdeeds of Hillary Clinton.

"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," said Winner, 26.

Asked if she believes she has the support of the president, Winner said: "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." She added that the president, with that turn of phrase, "really gave a whole sense of humor to the thing."

Winner, a former Air Force translator who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency, pleaded guilty in June to a single count of transmitting national security information.

U.S. authorities did not identify the news organization to which Winner mailed the report. But the Justice Department announced her June 2017 arrest the same day The Intercept, an online publication, reported on an NSA document that laid out Russian efforts to hack a Florida-based supplier of voting software.

U.S. intelligence agencies later publicly confirmed that Russian had meddled in the 2016 election.

The prosecutors in her case have said her sentence of five years and three months is the longest ever imposed for a federal crime involving leaks to the media.

U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine has told reporters that her leak hurt national security by revealing "sources and methods" that hindered U.S. efforts to gather similar information.