Reality Leigh Winner has furnished the news media with a fresh story to feed on, one that will no doubt generate headlines for days and weeks to come.
It’s a first-rate, journalistic delectable, complete with anti-Trump animus, leaking of top secret files, the FBI hot on the trail, Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, purported whistleblowing, and topped off with an endearing love of cats.
More than a whodunit — the FBI says Winner admitted to divulging classified documents without authorization — it’s a whydunit. Why did this high-security clearance employee of the National Security Agency, with no prior stain on her record, see fit to copy and send a top secret NSA report to a website which was a self-appointed purveyor of government leaks?
Winner’s family was dumbfounded by her sudden arrest on charges that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
“I never thought this would be something she would do,” her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told reporters.
Winner-Davis described her daughter as an athlete who loves animals but isn’t especially political, and never showed any inclination to break the law.
“She’s never ever given me any kind of indication that she was in favor of that at all,” her mother told CNN. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Mainly she was concerned about her cat,” Winner-Davis said about a phone conversation with her daughter after the FBI took her away. Winner asked if her mother and stepfather, who live in Texas, would travel to her home in Georgia to help feed her cat.
But then, her mother did offer an explanation: “I mean, she has expressed to me that she is not a fan of Trump, but she’s not someone who would go and riot or picket.”
Not a fan of President Donald Trump is an understatement. Winner frequently posted extremely abusive comments about the president, whom she referred to, among other things, as “the orange fascist,” in the months before she allegedly leaked the document.
But according to her mother, “she’s got a good heart. She serves her community, she served her country. She believes in always doing what’s right.”
If the charges submitted in court prove true, she believed that it was “right” to illegally publish secret documents which say that Russian hackers penetrated at least one U.S. voting software supplier days before last year’s presidential election.
The website she sent it to claimed the anonymously obtained report is the “most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.”
However, the posting of that account was intercepted by FBI agents, who seized it before the whistleblower could blow. As a result, the actual contents are not known.
Thus the murky story of alleged Russian meddling in the election grows.
We do not know what secret was divulged. Winner did not enter a plea at the court hearing, and her lawyer told the media that the “FBI’s unproven assertions and speculation [are] designed to serve the government’s agenda and as such warrant skepticism.”
As to why she did it, based on what we do know so far, it’s not hard to fathom.
Winner was a patriotic American who served six years in the Air Force and held a top-secret security clearance. “I know my daughter. She’s a patriot,” her stepfather said. “She served with distinction in one of the highest classified jobs in the Air Force.”
Apparently, outraged at the Trump electoral victory and the administration’s performance, she came to view it as her patriotic duty to expose Russian hacking of election-related targets, thus giving further credence to the claim by the president’s political opponents that his presidency is illegitimate.
Yet what she did was far from patriotic.
Winner disagreed with administration policy and personally detested the president. That much is evident from her various postings. Under such circumstances, the principled thing to do would have been to resign her position. If she could not be loyal to the president and the government agency where she worked, the honorable course would be to hand in her security badge and look for another job.
Instead, the nation is now faced with more questions about what happened during the 2016 presidential campaign.
We await hearing from Winner herself about her motivation, if indeed she admits to the charges against her.
The key question of course still remains: What was the extent of Russian interference in the U.S. electoral process?
Hopefully, the investigations currently underway will be concluded soon, and these disturbing questions will find clear answers.