Monday morning Winner whispers: a looooong road to #Justice4Reality?

I’ve spent the week waiting for a ruling on the Miranda issue raised in that February hearing, but Reality Winner’s counsel has not been. On Good Friday, the same day all counsel met for a status conference call, the defense gave notice that they intend to subpoena basically everyone with jurisdiction over U.S. cybersecurity or elections.

I’m trying to turn this news, via Politico, into an assortment of tea leaves re the Miranda issue. But it does at least seem that an avalanche of discovery cases may be a gold mine for investigative  reporters looking into Russiagate and the 2016 election. And for those of us looking at the blurred lines between military and civilian justice.

Talk about a wake-up call.

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My letter to Reality

IMG_20180309_092047.jpgIt appears that I won’t get that phone interview with the main character in my upcoming story. In my effort to do so, I sent the following letter, with a SASE, to the place where she’s being detained. Posting it below, and hoping she still appreciated hearing from me.

Reality Winner, 3342,

Lincoln County Jail

P.O. Box 970, Lincolnton, GA  3081

Dear Ms. Winner,

I’m sending this on International Women’s Day, which feels appropriate: you’re a woman of great courage, as well as strength and energy.

You don’t know me yet, but I was one of those wearing carnations at your hearing last week. I’m grateful that your family welcomed me to “Stand With Reality,” and encouraged me to write to you. They know that I’ve spent the past 10 years writing a book about veterans, some as young as you. A few have had experiences similar to yours, too — and cheered me on as I headed to Georgia for last week’s hearing. I’m hoping that you’ll write back to me, and eventually consider calling me collect so you don’t have to write responses to my questions,

Getting ready to write this, I reread your Twitter feed, to get a sense of your voice. Much of what you RTed felt like it could have been mine, especially the stuff about Standing Rock. And your election night post was pure poetry.

And your mom knows I really felt it when I learned your bio-dad died six months before The Troubles. My wife’s dad died last spring, and she’s only now having times when she doesn’t grieve him every day. (The sweetest guy in the world, a Coast Guard vet and retired firefighter, he also died of COPD, so I even know a little of how those final weeks felt.)

I’d love to hear more about  Mr. Winner. Some of the questions that popped in my mind  How did he react when you joined the Air Force? Did you share thoughts about the 2016 election, while it was going on?  Was it his COPD that trapped him in a wheelchair? Were you able to be there when he died?

I’m curious about a lot more, of course — from how it felt to go from Texas to Monterey to Fort Meade– Did you miss the South, is that why you chose Augusta when you were discharged?– to how a brilliant desk-jockey like you stayed a jock, from playing soccer school to Crossfit and yoga. Did you take up Crossfit at DLI or at Fort Meade? And why CF AND yoga? To me they seem like opposite approaches to fitness. Why do both?

If I were a potential student (and a lot younger ;-), how would you explain the combination? Did you need both to manage the stress of your AF missions? I’ve read and thought a lot about movement, especially dance,  as a way to know who we are. Is that why you like to teach it?

I’m sorry if that’s too many questions; I know answering them on paper likely feels like work.  I’d be deeply honored to hear from you. I hope the weather down in Augusta has gotten less swampy, though even that sounds awesome right now from my snowy Philadelphia street.

 

Sincerely,

Chris Lombardi

Chris L

Well, that felt like an episode of Law and Order. But #Justice4Reality?

As readers of this blog know, I love watching lawyers work. I remember telling David Coombs, one day at Fort Meade, that it was like watching a great painter as layers and layers gradually create a picture. This week, in federal court, I watched prosecutors paint  a black-and-white editorial cartoon, then saw that picture turned full color  by defense attorney Matthew Chester (of the powerhouse firm Baker Donelson.)

A local news report elegantly summarized Chester’s argument: “Winner’s lawyers say agents made her believe she was in custody by taking her cell phone, car keys, blocking her car, and following her around her property,” But ‘blocking her car’ doesn’t evoke the image, supported by defense photographs, of more than seven cars blocking her small driveway, or the 11 FBI agents streaming through her small Augusta home.

The effect of all of this on a 25-year-old young woman, not much taller than my own (shrimpy) height): she felt as though she had no choice but to do what they asked.  “This was a custodial interrogation,” Chester said. None of the agents ever told her she was free to go, though one made sure to say at intervals, “You’re here voluntarily.”

The National Law Reporter  did even better with this headline: “Reality Winner’s Lawyers Say FBI Interrogation Was Unconstitutional.” The reporter also got down Chester’s list of why:

  • FBI agents informed Winner they had search warrants for her residence, her car and her person, suggesting she was not free to leave until she was frisked.
  • Agents took Winner’s car keys and cellphone as she arrived home from the grocery store.
  • Winner was never advised that she was not in custody. When she asked if she was going to be arrested, agents hedged, according to defense lawyers and a transcript of the conversation, telling her they did not know.
  • Winner was not searched until after her arrest—another indication that she was not free to leave.
  • Agents remained at Winner’s side as she put away groceries, including perishables that had been sitting in her car in the summer heat, when they began their inquiry.
  • Agents also accompanied Winner as she leashed her dog and secured her cat.
  • At one point, Winner also felt compelled to ask permission to go to the bathroom, asking agents, “How’s that going to work?” according to a transcript of her interview.
  • After asking if there was a place they could speak privately, agents directed Winner to a small, unfurnished room she said she didn’t like.
  • During the interview, two agents blocked the entrance and questioned her as Winner faced them with her back against the wall.
  • At the end of the interrogation, she was arrested rather than released.
  • Agents also made what the defense described as “accusatory statements … that the evidence against her was ‘very, very, very compelling’ and that she was ‘the most likely candidate by far and away.’” They also told her she was “the prime suspect” in the possible mishandling of classified information.
  • FBI agents informed Winner they had search warrants for her residence, her car and her person, suggesting she was not free to leave until she was frisked.
  • Agents took Winner’s car keys and cellphone as she arrived home from the grocery store.
  • Winner was never advised that she was not in custody. When she asked if she was going to be arrested, agents hedged, according to defense lawyers and a transcript of the conversation, telling her they did not know.
  • Winner was not searched until after her arrest—another indication that she was not free to leave.
  • Agents remained at Winner’s side as she put away groceries, including perishables that had been sitting in her car in the summer heat, when they began their inquiry.
  • Agents also accompanied Winner as she leashed her dog and secured her cat.
  • At one point, Winner also felt compelled to ask permission to go to the bathroom, asking agents, “How’s that going to work?” according to a transcript of her interview.
  • After asking if there was a place they could speak privately, agents directed Winner to a small, unfurnished room she said she didn’t like.
  • During the interview, two agents blocked the entrance and questioned her as Winner faced them with her back against the wall.
  • At the end of the interrogation, she was arrested rather than released.
  • Agents also made what the defense described as “accusatory statements … that the evidence against her was ‘very, very, very compelling’ and that she was ‘the most likely candidate by far and away.’” They also told her she was “the prime suspect” in the possible mishandling of classified information.

Later, I told one of Winner’s lawyers that the day had felt a little like an episode of Law and Order. “Usually,” he said, “a day in court is much more boring.”

Attorneys on both sides have military/intel backgrounds; Winner’s senior counsel (not Chester) is former NSA, Tuesday’s main prosecutor a former JAG.  The latter, who told court personnel that she missed military life sometimes, said she found “insulting” that Chester had noted the sex of the 11 FBI agents. I later told Billie Winner that the prosecutor was  the whitest woman in the room, someone who’s never had a reason to fear the police.

 

outlaw!

Tuesday night, at a gathering hosted by Reality’s mom and stepdad, I met the three-legged dog, Outlaw (above), that Reality has adopted as her mascot. I also saw the small room where Winner was interviewed. I can’t see how three people could stand comfortably in there, less have the casual conversation described in one agent’s testimony:, “It looked like 3 people talking in a Starbucks line.”

Another agent described Winner’s affect that day as “flat, unemotional.” Again, I refer you to my post on “the politics of grief.” Winner’s biological father had died about six months earlier, a trauma she was still processing.  When the FBI showed up, she turned on a cheery vibe , a cheery mix of competent professional and the good Texas girl her parents raised.  As a trained intel analyst, she knew she was in trouble.  In the courtroom, we all listened to bits of the audio of that day in June, and I could feel the tightness in her voice. She wasn’t about to show these strange men what she was thinking and feeling, really.

As the hearing ended, both sides promised to submit briefs using the classified evidence that can’t be discussed in court. My guess is that the prosecution will try to drag the issue out of Law and Order, more toward Homeland  or 24, reviving their image of this kid as some kind of terrorist mastermind.  She’d joked (in a text to her sister) that she might fail her background check! She had done Internet searches on “How to make friends with the Taliban!” Worst of all, she had money in the bank, all cited as reasons to deny her bail. The judge-magistrate, Brian Epps, was persuaded enough that Winner’s still in county jail.  Still, Epps was open to Winner’s constitutional claims, and said he’d welcome the additional briefs.

Whether or not Epps eventually agrees that Winner’s confession should be suppressed, her trial will take place before a different judge, likely  not till the fall. But I’ll write here when that decision is reached, with news from the court of public opinion.

 

 

reality winner and the politics of grief

What comes to your mind when you hear the name Reality Leigh Winner?

i asked on social media, and got a range of responses: including “Exploited mistaken fool” and “traitor.” No one mentioned anything on my list, but  that’s OK: The words that cram my mind are both predictable and self-contradictory. Power lifter?Millennial? Russia? Trump? “That’s really a name?” Veteran? Drone analyst? Prisoner?Defendant? Security clearance?

For now, I’m settling on two: Veteran and Whistleblower.   That’s Winner in the spring of 2017, when she came across evidence (since publicly confirmed) that the Russian government had successfully hacked into some U.S. voter registration lists. She was spending her days, as an intelligence contractor, facilitating drone strikes in the Middle East, which under Trump have escalated the number of civilian casualties. She was doing that job while she sought opportunities to do humanitarian work overseas, where she might make amends for that damage. Her interest in doing so is now seen by prosecutors as “anti-American,” of which another veteran said to me last night: “Hey, I’ve gone abroad, I’ve done humanitarian work. Am I anti-American too?”

Kerry Howley’s  amazing New York Magazine Winner profile  quotes her boyfriend, about her work on drones: “It was definitely traumatizing…You’re watching people die. You have U.S. troops on the ground getting shot at, you miss something, a bomb goes off, and you get three people killed.” I thought of Brandon Bryant, Heather Linebaugh, and Lisa Ling when I read that. (Those names should be familiar to readers of this blog, as well as from the films National Bird and the underrated DRONE.)

The 2017 leak attributed to Winner, published by The Intercept, had nothing to do with drone strikes,  but the connection is clear to me. If there’s reason to mistrust the president who’d have been her commander-in-chief had she not left the military in 2016, she found reasons for that mistrust in her job as a contractor . She likely knew enough about the whistleblowers I’ve covered here to sense that official channels didn’t exist for what she wanted: an open discussion of these facts.

Another keyword that occurred to me, largely from the Howley profile: grieving daughter. My father-in-law died last spring, giving me a front-row seat to my wife’s journey through the year after. Winner’s father died on December 21, 2016. She wrote in a letter to Howley, “I lost my confidant, “someone who believed in me, my anger, my heartbreak, my life-force. It was always us against the world … It was Christmastime and I had to go running to cry to hide it from the family.” If her FBI investigators had any emotional intelligence, they could have evaluated her rage-filled anti-Trump social media posts with that searing fact in mind, especially since December 2016 was also when the Trump campaign became our political reality.

Instead, they’ve approached her from day one as an enemy combatant, not entitled to Miranda rights or other Constitutional protections. Most recently, they responded to a motion from her attorneys by holding a private session with the judge and the Classified Security Officer, whose proceedings are too secret for you and me.

I wonder how that session will affect this month’s hearing in Augusta, Georgia, on that same motion. I plan on being there to find out.