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Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers

A senior official working for the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has been charged with leaking confidential financial reports on former Trump campaign advisers Paul ManafortPaul John Manafort5 things to know about new acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker New acting AG once criticized idea of special counsel Obama: GOP has ‘racked up enough indictments to field a football team’ MORE, Richard Gates and others to a media outlet.
 
Prosecutors say that Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior adviser to FinCEN, photographed what are called suspicious activity reports, or SARs, and other sensitive government files and sent them to an unnamed reporter, in violation of U.S. law.
 
Banks file SARs confidentially in order to tip off law enforcement to potentially illegal financial transactions. The unauthorized document disclosures, which began last October, are said to have provided the basis for 12 news articles published by an unnamed news organization.
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Edwards is being charged in the Southern District of New York with one count of unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports and one count of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports, both of which carry a maximum five years in prison.
 
The charges are the latest indication of the Trump administration's efforts to root out alleged leakers within the government, something that prosecutors emphasized in announcing the charges on Wednesday.
 
"We hope today’s charges remind those in positions of trust within government agencies that the unlawful sharing of sensitive documents will not be tolerated and will be met with swift justice by this Office," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
 
According to the criminal complaint, agents in the Treasury inspector general’s office detected “a pattern” of unauthorized media disclosures of the sensitive financial files beginning in October 2017 and continuing for a year. The disclosures were related to matters being investigated either by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York or the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
 
They included leaks about suspicious transactions made by Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Gates, Manafort’s longtime business partner who also served on the Trump campaign and the transition team. Both individuals were charged in connection with Mueller’s Russia investigation last October with crimes stemming from their foreign lobbying activity. Both have since decided to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller’s probe.
 
Federal prosecutors have also accused Edwards of leaking sensitive financial information related to the case of Maria Butina, the Russian woman charged with illegally acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.
 
The complaint does not name the news organization to which Edwards sent the information from the documents, but lists the headlines of six articles published by BuzzFeed News between October 2017 and as recently as Monday that they allege were based on the leaks.
 
Those articles include several BuzzFeed reports regarding financial connections between President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report California wildfire becomes deadliest in state’s history Sinema’s Senate win cheered by LGBTQ groups MORE’s business empire, the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.
 
FinCEN monitors the U.S. financial system for money laundering, illicit finance and other money-related crimes. The agency collects and analyzes SARs from banks, who are mandated by law to report suspicious transactions conducted by customers to federal officials.
 
SARs and other confidential financial records held by FinCEN are classified and access to those documents is closely monitored. Leaks from the agency are considered major breaches of highly protected material.
 
The alleged leak announced Wednesday would be the second major suspected breach at FinCEN reported this year, after a federal law enforcement official told The New Yorker in May that he leaked SARs on a shell company set up by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, after two similar bank records appeared to be missing from the FinCEN database.
 
In addition to allegedly leaking the SARs information, Edwards is also accused of sending the reporter internal FinCEN emails, investigative memos and intelligence assessments. Edwards allegedly used an encrypted application to send files that contained or described the financial reports. Prosecutors also say Edwards saved the documents on a flash drive that they believe she had in her possession at the time of the arrest on Tuesday.
 
Updated at 1:30 p.m.