WASHINGTON - A Treasury Department employee was accused Wednesday of leaking confidential banking reports of suspects charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, and an unidentified high-ranking colleague was cited in court papers as a co-conspirator but was not charged.
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior official at the department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN, is accused of leaking several confidential suspicious-activity reports to a journalist, whose name was not disclosed in court papers. But they list about a dozen stories published by BuzzFeed News over the past year and a half. A spokesman for the news organization declined to comment.
According to the government, the material included reports on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, political consultant Richard Gates and Maria Butina, who is accused of trying to infiltrate U.S. political organizations as a covert Russian agent.
Edwards is currently on administrative leave, FinCen spokesman Steve Hudak said.
Banks must file the suspicious-activity reports with the Treasury Department when they spot transactions that raise questions about possible financial misconduct such as money laundering.
When federal agents confronted Edwards this week, she described herself as a whistle-blower and said she had provided the reports to the reporter for "record-keeping,'' the court papers said.
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, where the criminal complaint was filed, said Edwards "betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information.''
Edwards is alleged to have taken photographs of the confidential documents and sent them to a reporter using an encrypted messaging app, according to court documents. Edwards also sent the reporter internal Treasury Department emails, investigative memos and intelligence assessments, prosecutors allege.
When she was arrested, Edwards was in possession of a flash drive containing the confidential reports, prosecutors said.
Edwards was to make an initial court appearance later Wednesday in Virginia. It was not immediately clear whether she had a lawyer.
Court papers also list another FinCEN employee as a co-conspirator, noting that this person exchanged more than 300 messages with the reporter via an encrypted messaging application. This person has not been charged and was not named in the court papers, and was identified only as an associate director at FinCEN to whom Edwards reported.
According to court papers, federal investigators obtained a court order to monitor the calls to and from the associate director's personal cellphone, and that monitoring captured the frequency of contacts with the reporter via the encrypted messaging application. Court papers do not detail the contents of those messages.
"Protecting sensitive information is one of our most critical responsibilities, and it is a role that we take very seriously,'' said Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.