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Reality Winner sentenced to more than 5 years for leaking info about Russia hacking attempts

The Georgia woman, who leaked a secret report on Russian hacking of the U.S. election, faced a maximum penalty of 10 years.
Image: Reality Winner
Reality Winner arrives at a courthouse in Augusta, Georgia, on Thursday.Michael Holahan / AP

AUGUSTA, Ga. — A former government contractor who pleaded guilty to leaking U.S. secrets about Russia's attempts to hack the 2016 presidential election was sentenced Thursday to five years and three months in prison.

It was the sentence that prosecutors had recommended — the longest ever for a federal crime involving leaks to the news media — in the plea deal for Reality Winner, the Georgia woman at the center of the case. Winner was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and no fine, except for a $100 special assessment fee.

The crime carried a maximum penalty of 10 years. U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall in Augusta, Georgia, was not bound to follow the plea deal, but elected to give Winner the amount of time prosecutors requested.

Winner, 26, who was a contractor with the National Security Agency, pleaded guilty in June to copying a classified report that detailed the Russian government's efforts to penetrate a Florida-based voting software supplier.

U.S. intelligence agencies later confirmed Russia had meddled in the election. Authorities have never confirmed what exactly the report said, or identified the news organization that received it.

But a leaked document that was published by the online news outlet The Intercept in June 2017 bore the same May 5 date as the NSA report that Winner had leaked. The Justice Department announced it had arrested Winner on the same day as the Intercept report came out.

Thursday's hearing lasted less than 45 minutes. Winner entered the courtroom in handcuffs, her hair down and smiling. She held her hands behind her back for most of the hearing, except when she delivered her personal statement.

"I would like to apologize profusely for my actions. I want to apologize to my family. Nothing is worth time spent away from loved ones," she said.

Winner's attorneys called her a good person with an otherwise clean criminal record, and said that she suffers from depression and bulimia.

Prosecutors said her offense was serious, and urged Hall to sentence her to the recommended 63 months.

"She blatantly violated the trust put in her by the United States. This sentence will deter others from committing the same offense," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Solari.

Hall acknowledged the need to deter others and said the sentence reflected the seriousness of the offense.

Winner has been held with no bail since she was arrested last June and charged under the Espionage Act. A former Air Force linguist who speaks Arabic and languages used in Afghanistan, including Farsi and Pashto, Winner had a top-secret security clearance while working for national security contractor Pluribus International at Fort Gordon in Georgia when she was charged.

In her guilty plea, Winner told the court that she did "all of these actions I did willfully, meaning I did them of my own free will," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had reported.

Bianca Seward reported from Augusta, Georgia, and Elizabeth Chuck from New York.