Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old National Security Agency contractor accused of leaking classified information about Russian hacking to the media, wrote that she wanted to “burn the White House down” in notes confiscated from her home during a raid, federal prosecutors said in court today.
Winner pleaded not guilty to a charge of “willful retention and transmission of national defense information” this afternoon in federal court in Augusta, Georgia. She was arrested at her Georgia home on June 3 and charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.
Winner was a contractor with top-secret clearance when she allegedly leaked a classified report about Russian election interference to the online publication The Intercept. The Department of Justice said she printed and improperly removed the classified information on May 9 and then mailed it a few days later.
At the time, Winner was working at an NSA outpost, while technically employed by a government contractor called Pluribus International Corporation.
In court, federal prosecutors said Winner told a federal agent on Saturday that she purposely accessed the information, hoping that someone would have leaked it already, ABC Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV reported.
Prosecutors said they seized handwritten notes — written in several languages — from her home during a raid, including one that said “I want to burn the White House down.” Other notes detailed how to get a burner email account and phones and travel details for a trip to Afghanistan Winner allegedly planned to make in the summer.
Winner’s mother, Bille Winner-Davis, and stepfather, Gary Davis, and a friend testified in court. Winner allegedly told her mother that she needed to “go nuclear with the press” if she didn’t get bond because that’s how Chelsea Manning got out.
When prosecutors questioned Winner-Davis about her daughter telling her to “play that angle,” she said it was true.
A federal judge denied Winner’s request for bond.
Winner’s attorney, Titus Nichols, told ABC News prior to Thursday’s hearing that his client planned to plead not guilty. He did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment following Winner’s court appearance.
Winner was the first person to be jailed by the Trump administration after being accused of leaking classified information.
“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement after Winner was arrested. “People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation.”
Winner’s mother and stepfather told ABC affiliate WSB-TV in Atlanta earlier this week that Winner, an Air Force veteran, is a patriot.
“There’s so many ugly things out there. She doesn’t deserve that,” Winner’s mother Billie Winner-Davis told WSB-TV. “I just want her to be treated fairly.”
“If she did something wrong, yes, pay for it, but I don’t want her out there like, making a case on her. What am I trying to say? Hanging her out (to dry), you know?” Winner-Davis said.