The following is an op-ed. The views and opinions expressed by the author are their own and not necessarily those of The Washington Pundit or its management.
I entered the Southern District of New York (SDNY) federal courthouse on a rainy Thursday, June 3rd, 2021. I check my iPhone at security and hang around the lobby killing time before the U.S. vs. Edwards sentencing case begins at noon.
The walls are filled with large framed court sketches from previous trials that have been successfully prosecuted within this building. Court artist, Jane Rosenberg, seems to have a long storied career as her name appears on each sketch crediting her for the artwork. A plaque to the side of the framed sketch displays her name as well as the defendant and the federal judge who presided over each case. The judge’s photo on the plaque is smiling which is in contrast to the solemn faces portrayed in Ms. Rosenberg’s drawings.
Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, has his court case displayed in a prime real estate location on a wall near the elevators. Ms. Rosenberg captured that deer in the headlights look Cohen seems to always wear. The description of him consists of him paying people to keep Trump’s affairs secret during the 2016 Presidential election season. Much of the paragraph seems to have little to do with the actual reason for his conviction. I can’t help but wonder how pervasive politics can be even within these Walls of Justice.
I have driven down from Boston to be a witness in the sentencing of Dr. Natalie Mayflower Edwards on charges of her leaking Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS) to the media from her job at the U.S. Treasury Dept. She had given these reports to BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold, and has pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy. Her case has been an interest of mine since I discovered Jason Leopold asked her to search the SARS database for certain individuals, and it seemed to veer off track from her original stated reason for speaking to the press about her concerns at her job in the Treasury.
I cannot glance at my phone for the time, but I know I’m still early so I meander into the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Gallery to look around. The courthouse is named after New York Democrat Senator Moynihan and large 8×10 foot photos of him with prominent politicians adorn the walls. The glass cases display his eighteen books he published and letters and commendations from prominent Americans including Ruth Bader Ginsburg. His contributions to the city are clearly admired.
After learning about Moynihan’s career I take the elevator to the 12th floor and enter one of the four courtrooms on the floor. Judge Gregory Woods’ courtroom looks like your typical small size court space, oak paneled walls matching the oak paneled benches and I slide into a spot awaiting the “Please rise” command. Above the judge’s bench is a metal American eagle with olive branches filling his right talon and arrows filling his left. His beak pointed towards the olive branches but the prosecution facing the eagle appeared ready to sling arrows.
Dr. Natalie Edwards is sitting with her counsel. She is wearing a blue dress with a black short sleeved blazer. Her dreamcatcher tattoo is exposed on her arm. Natalie is a Native-American who is proud of her heritage, although she probably never dreamed she would be punished by a government she swore to serve. She was the first member of her tribe to receive a PhD and has always been given high marks from her different jobs over ten years working for the Federal Government. She started in the ATF, then was recruited by the CIA, then recruited by the ODNI, and then finally worked for the Department of Treasury in the financial intelligence unit known as FinCEN.
When Natalie began at the U.S. Treasury Dept., she was appalled at the corruption she witnessed firsthand compared to the professionalism she encountered in her previous position at the ODNI. There were serious breaches of security including employees using Gmail accounts for communications with a Russian financial department. She expressed concerns internally to her immediate supervisor, then to the Office of Inspector General for the Treasury Department, and also to an ombudsman. She also brought her concerns to the legislative branch and wrote letters to Congressmen, but still she witnessed the rampant corruption in her unit.
BuzzFeed journalist, Jason Leopold, had already done two articles about his concerns about behavior at the Treasury and he and Natalie Edwards began communicating, and she shared 2100 SARS reports with him. Leopold told her over one hundred times through WhatsApp conversations that her issues were his issues and he would would protect his sources. Reading all his BuzzFeed articles and then the International Consortium of International Journalism (ICIJ) articles, they seemed to veer far away from her original concerns at the Treasury. His articles and the articles from the ICIJ seemed to manipulate the SARS reports into a conspiratorial gossip driven expose on Trump associates and also critics of hedge fund manager Bill Browder.
Jason Leopold even asked Natalie Edwards to search the SARS database for the CEO of Prevezon Alexander, a company that was involved in a SDNY case Bill Browder personally hand delivered to the courthouse in which Bill’s podcast friend and U.S. Attorney for the SDNY at the time, Preet Bharara, brought charges to Browder’s foe. The U.S. vs Prevezon case was a long way away from Dr. Edward’s concerns, but Leopold manipulated her good intentions into his own pet project and agenda.
After the judge sentenced Dr. Edwards to the maximum recommended time in her plea agreement with DOJ of six months in federal prison, I glanced at BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold who dropped his head, clearly upset about the verdict. He is sitting near some of his BuzzFeed colleagues including Mark Cormier who contributed to his BuzzFeed hit pieces on Trump associates from October 2017 to October 2018.
The prosecution had argued that leaked personal financial information in the form of a Suspicious Activity Report was a breach of a person’s privacy and journalists could manipulate them into a web of guilt through creative writing, innuendos, and rumor filled hit pieces. The government’s concerns were valid as this is exactly what Jason Leopold did with these snapshots into an individual’s finances. Leopold manipulated Dr. Edward’s goodwill into clickbait for his rabid anti-Trump readership. His articles roamed far away from her original concerns of Treasury Dept. government corruption. Yet she trusted him longer than she should have, believing he was trying to expose the treasury, not cherry-pick financial records of individuals he targeted for smear articles.
I’m upset about the sentence and I’m upset at Jason Leopold for coercing Dr. Edwards into this position and lying to her with broken promises and validation their concerns were aligned. They weren’t.
After the case I walk back towards my hotel.
As I wander around the blocks nearby, I walk along the 9/11 Memorial. Natalie Edwards had chosen to work for her country after being deeply affected by those tragic events in New York twenty years ago. While employed at her most recent government job though, she thought the U.S. Treasury Dept. did not do enough to quickly work with America’s international anti-terrorist partners. These were her concerns, not investigating what property some son of a Russian oligarch was buying in New York. Those were Jason Leopold and Bill Browder’s concerns. She did not care about some Leopold and Browder invented fantasy made up about some Russian poisoned using a rare Chinese plant toxin. Yet this was conspiracy theory BuzzFeed and ICIJ peddled in their FinCEN podcast series about Alexander Peripilichny.
I look up at the Freedom Tower that now stands where the Twin Towers used to stand and I am angry that Dr. Edwards is going to jail for trying to blow the whistle on corrupt officials. Those very same officials are covering for true criminals who lie behind a mountain of propaganda put out by “journalists” like Jason Leopold.
So, Jason, your sadness and and that of your ICIJ counterparts about Dr. Edward’s incarceration rings hollow to me. If you truly feel she was wronged, then start writing articles about what her true concerns were, not your silly smear pieces targeting the opponents of your friends.
Dr. Edwards accepts the consequences for her actions. She believes her whistleblowing about U.S. Treasury Dept. employees using Gmail accounts was worth the risks she took. I just wish the media wrote the stories about her concerns and not twist them into their own. Natalie lost her job, her reputation, her income, and had to sell her home to pay her legal bills. It’s been three years of hell for her.
To Dr. Edward’s family, I’m sorry for how this whole case was handled. It seems the whistleblower was punished, and the true criminals continue their con on the American people uninterrupted. Imagine if Jason chose to write about them.
Maybe someday, but not today.
Regina Mouradian (@ReginaMourad)