On Tuesday, former US intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner appeared in court in Augusta, Georgia, where her lawyers asked the judge to exclude her statements to FBI agents on the day she was arrested, arguing she was denied her Miranda rights. Winner is a former National Security Agency contractor who has pleaded not guilty to charges she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept about Russian interference in the 2016 election. She is facing up to 10 years in prison on charges she violated the Espionage Act. For more, we speak with two guests. In Chicago, we’re joined by Kevin Gosztola, a journalist and managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He was in the courtroom in Augusta on Tuesday, and his recent article is titled “In Reality Winner’s Case, Defense Seizes Upon FBITestimony to Bolster Motion to Suppress Statements.” And in Augusta, Georgia, we speak with Reality Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis. She’s joining us from her daughter’s house, where Reality Winner was questioned and arrested by FBI agents on June 3.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with updates in the case of former US intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner, who’s facing up to 10 years in prison on charges she violated the Espionage Act. Winner is a former National Security Agency contractor who’s pleaded not guilty to charges she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Reality Winner was arrested by FBI agents at her home in Augusta, Georgia, on June 3rd, two days before The Intercept published an exposé revealing Russian military intelligence conducted a cyberattack on at least one US voting software company just days before the US presidential election last November. The exposé was based on a classified NSA report from May 5th, 2017, that shows that the agency is convinced the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, was responsible for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
Reality is the first whistleblower to be accused of violating the Espionage Act under the Trump administration. She’s been denied bail and has been jailed since June. On Tuesday, she appeared in court in Augusta, Georgia, in orange jumpsuit and shackles, where her lawyers asked the judge to exclude her statements to the FBIagents on the day she was arrested, arguing she was denied her Miranda rights.
Well, we’re joined right now by two guests. In Chicago, Kevin Gosztola is with us, managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He’s been covering Reality Winner’s case and has just come back from Augusta. He’s also covered several whistleblower cases, including Chelsea Manning’s. He was in the courtroom in Augusta Tuesday. And his recent article is headlined “In Reality Winner’s Case, Defense Seizes Upon FBI Testimony to Bolster Motion to Suppress Statements.” But first we go to Augusta, Georgia, where we’re joined by Reality Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis. She’s joining us from her daughter’s home, where Reality was questioned and arrested by FBI agents on June 3rd.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Billie Winner-Davis, let’s begin with you. As you sit in Reality’s home, talk about what you understood happened that first weekend of June in 2017. Walk us through this.
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Well, on June 3rd, Reality returned from a trip to the grocery store, and she was immediately approached by male FBI agents at her home. They advised her that they had a search warrant — they had search warrants for her home, her car and her person. She cooperated with them fully. They took her cellphone. They took her keys. They asked her if she had a place — if she wanted to basically be interviewed here at her home or if she wanted to go down to the FBI office. She agreed to be interviewed here at her home. They asked if she had a place that they could interview her that was away from everything. She advised them that she did have a spare back room, a bedroom here in the house. She advised them that she was not comfortable going into that room. She called the room creepy and weird. They nevertheless led her to that room to interview her with regard to their investigation.
This week, in court, her lawyers argued that, basically, the actions that the FBIagents took were actions that confined her. They had her in their custody. She never felt at any time that she was free to leave. And in fact, her actions during the interview and during the whole process told them that she felt like she wasn’t free to leave. She asked for permission to move about. She asked for permission to even use the restroom, which they gave her. She was at all times accompanied by agents. And on that day, it was 11 FBI agents that came into this home to either interview her or search her. And so — and it is a very small home. And so, basically, I get the impression that it was very frightening, it was very intimidating, for her that day.
AMY GOODMAN: Billie, the FBI agents were armed?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Yes. From what we’ve learned, nine of the 11 FBI agents and personnel here at her home that day were armed.
AMY GOODMAN: And they immediately took her cellphone and her car keys, and they said — and they took her into that room that she has described as creepy?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Yes, that is correct. That is correct. And at no point did they return her cellphone to her, return her car keys to her. We saw photographs which definitely showed that her car was surrounded. There would have been no physical way for her to even leave in her vehicle if she wanted to. And so, the argument that the defense made this week was a strong one, that she was basically being held here.
AMY GOODMAN: Was she read her Miranda rights?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Yes, ma’am? No, she was never read her Miranda rights. And the FBI agents did admit to that. They did admit that at no time did they read her Miranda rights or did they feel like they had to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: And this is what’s at issue, is that right? Her lawyers want to suppress her statements to the FBI, saying she was not read her Miranda rights, not told she could remain silent or have a lawyer with her.
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: That’s correct. That’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Gosztola, you’ve not only covered this trial, but others. Can you talk further about what this means? What happened to Reality on that day?
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: [inaudible] rights, which goes to, you know, due process issues and whether a person has a right to remain silent. One of the aspects of the law that is at issue here is something that I didn’t really know, until this case, existed: a concept called custodial interrogation. And FBI agents apparently can come into your home, and if you’re not in a police-dominated atmosphere, if a court of law doesn’t determine that police took over this area, then in fact you were never detained or arrested, and they can basically manipulate or have their way with you. And so, what the judge is looking at here is whether enough factors appear where she is actually in custody. And if that’s the case, if the judge agrees with the defense, what they’ve listed off and what Billie was talking about, then, in fact, the judge may rule that her rights were violated.
And some other things that were talked about is the fact that, you know, she had a search warrant for her person — or the FBI had a search warrant for her person. And when they came there, the government wants to maintain that they executed it when they took the cellphone. But about 28 minutes into this whole encounter, another agent, who did not take the stand, Wally Taylor, said something about still having a search warrant for her person. Nobody is free to leave if the FBI still has a search warrant to execute against you. And so, clearly, she couldn’t have left her home and just wandered to the convenience store, as the government talked during the hearing.
Another aspect that’s important is that she was regarded, even before this encounter, as someone who was a danger to the community. That’s how the FBI viewed her. They also viewed her as a potential target of foreign intelligence. One way that the defense really tried to poke at the government’s arguments that they didn’t do anything wrong was to say that if you have somebody in their home and they’re isolated in this way and they’re surrounded by a surveillance team, you’re not really going to let them leave and go into the community. You know, if we’re going to follow your logic, you wouldn’t have let Reality Winner leave her house.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Billie Winner-Davis, you know your daughter well. She’s an Air Force veteran — her rank, senior airman; her last duty, cryptologic language analyst. She had been stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, before working in Augusta. That military training, with having FBI come in, what would be her assumption, now stripped of phone, car keys, asking to go to the bathroom?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Right. All of her actions that day — and when you read the transcript, and we heard clips of the audio — all of her actions that day told us that she did never — she never felt like she was free to leave. And I know, in talking with her shortly after the incident, she did indicate to me that she was frightened. I heard her voice on the audio. I heard it shaking. The prosecution tried to make it seem that this was a very casual encounter, almost like one that would occur at Starbucks. But what I heard on the audio was far from that. Her voice was shaking. Yes, she was making small talk, and she was making jokes, and she was laughing. But that’s out of nervousness. They twisted a lot of things to try to make it look like this was a very mild encounter that she had with FBI agents at her home.
But anyone puts themselves in her situation — 11 male armed FBI agents — nine of them armed, but 11 male FBI agents have come into your home. Two of them have taken you to the back room in your house, where you have already told them you are not comfortable. You are asking permission to make any movements in your home. She was never under the impression that she was free to leave. And, therefore, I believe she was in their custody.
AMY GOODMAN: Billie Winner-Davis and Kevin Gosztola, we have to break. We’re going to come back to this discussion. Billie Winner-Davis is the mother of Reality Winner, who faces 10 years in prison. She has been now jailed for nine months, brought into a courtroom this week in an orange jumpsuit and shackles. We’ll also continue with Kevin Gosztola, speaking to us from Chicago, just back from Augusta, where the courtroom scene played out this week. Stay with us.