Ex-Treasury official sentenced to 6 months in prison for leaking banking documents related to the Mueller probe

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, center, leaves court after receiving a six-month prison sentence for leaking confidential financial reports to a journalist at Buzzfeed, Thursday June 3, 2021, in New York.
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, center, leaves court after receiving a six-month prison sentence for leaking confidential financial reports to a journalist at Buzzfeed, Thursday June 3, 2021, in New York.

  • Former Treasury Department official Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards was sentenced to six months in prison on Thursday.
  • Her sentencing comes more than a year after she pleaded guilty and admitted to leaking confidential documents to Buzzfeed News.
  • The banking files were related to figures tied to Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, including Paul Manafort.
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A former Treasury Department official was sentenced to six months in prison on Thursday for leaking tens of thousands of pages of confidential financial documents to Buzzfeed News, the media publication reported.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, 42, pleaded guilty last year, admitting she leaked Suspicious Activity Reports related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the US election.

Leaked documents included reports on former President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his associate Rick Gates, the Russian Embassy, and Maria Butina.

Edwards also leaked documents that became part of the FinCEN files, which were covered by a consortium of more than 100 international news organizations. The project exposed potential corruption in the global banking system and led several counties to reform their financial laws.

Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, are highly confidential documents that banks submit to the Treasury Department when they notice potentially suspect financial activity.

As a senior department official, Edwards had access to those filings and ultimately sent more than 50,000 pages’ worth to BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold. The indictment, which federal prosecutors in Manhattan first brought in 2018, didn’t mention Leopold by name but cited the articles he wrote about the Mueller investigation and FinCEN files.

Edwards pleaded guilty in 2020, though her sentencing was repeatedly delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. At Edwards’s sentencing hearing Thursday, her defense attorney Stephanie Carvlin said Edwards leaked the files as a whistleblower because the Treasury Department wasn’t properly handling them, according to Politico.

In a statement Thursday, BuzzFeed News spokesperson Matt Mittenthal condemned the six-month sentence from US District Court Judge Gregory Woods.

“Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards is a brave whistleblower,” Mittenthal told Politico. “She fought to warn the public about grave risks to America’s national security, first through the official whistleblower process, and then through the press. She did so, despite tremendous personal risk, because she believed she owed it to the country she loves.”

On Twitter, Leopold said the leaks played a valuable public service.

“Natalie Edwards made these disclosures despite tremendous personal risk, because she believed she owed it to the country she loves,” Leopold wrote. “Her disclosures has helped to inspire major financial reform and legal action in the United States, the EU, and countries around the world.”

The sentencing comes at a moment when the Justice Department is under scrutiny for secretly seizing the records of journalists at The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post during Donald Trump’s administration in order to investigate leaks. It’s not clear whether, as part of its investigation, the department obtained phone records from Leopold.

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BuzzFeed in talks to go public through merger with 890 5th Avenue, a SPAC focused on media and telecom

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BuzzFeed News headquarters.

  • BuzzFeed is in talks to go public via a merger with 890 5th Avenue, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
  • 890 5th Avenue is a special purpose acquisition company focused on media and entertainment.
  • The deal talks are not finalized and could still fall apart, according to Bloomberg.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

BuzzFeed is considering going public through a merger with the special purpose acquisition company 890 5th Avenue Partners, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

The terms of the deal aren’t publicly known at this point, and talks are ongoing and could still fall apart, according to Bloomberg.

BuzzFeed and 890 5th Avenue did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.

BuzzFeed, a New York City-based digital media company, was founded in 2006 and completed its acquisition of HuffPost from Verizon in February, before laying off 47 staffers earlier this week.

Jonah Peretti, who cofounded BuzzFeed and serves as CEO of the combined companies, told staffers the layoffs were meant to “enable HuffPost to break even this year and eventually be profitable,” after losing $20 million last year and being on track to post similar losses again in 2021.

BuzzFeed also furloughed around 70 employees last year, including around 20 BuzzFeed News employees, during negotiations with its editorial union as it sought to losses across the company. BuzzFeed eventually laid off 50 employees in total, around 6% of its workforce, according to The Wrap.

890 5th Avenue raised $287.5 million through its initial public offering in January, according to a press release. The “blank check” company, which is named after the fictional Avengers mansion, said it plans to focus on media and entertainment businesses.

SPACs typically aim to first secure a stock-market listing and then acquire a private company, offering businesses an alternative way to go public than the traditional initial public offering (IPO) process. SPACs have skyrocketed in popularity over the past year, with 130 having gone public this year alone – more than in the first nine months of 2020.

But the boom has sparked concerns that there could be a SPAC bubble, triggering a recent wave of sell-offs.

The think tank Americans for Financial Reform and the Consumer Federation of America told Congress in a February letter that the SPAC boom has been “fueled by conflicts of interest and compensation to corporate insiders at the expense of retail investors.”

SPACs have also received pushback from investors such as Warren Buffett’s business partner Charlie Munger and Chris Sacca – an early investor in Uber, Twitter, and Instagram – who recently said he has received multiple invitations to sit on the boards of SPACs with the expectation that “you’ll get [lots of shares] for just putting your name on it and doing nothing.'”

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Students from Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s college said he used ‘fun drives’ to corner women with sexual advances, report says

Madison Cawthorne
Rep. Madison Cawthorne (R-North Carolina).

  • Former classmates of Rep. Madison Cawthorn told BuzzFeed news he harassed women at their college.
  • Two RAs said they warned women residing in their dorms not to go on drives with Cawthorn.
  • Cawthorn previously said that he has “never done anything sexually inappropriate in my life.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s former classmates said he would use his car to corner women with sexual advances in off-campus drives, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation.

Students said that Cawthorn, a 25-year-old Republican from North Carolina, was known for this behavior while at Patrick Henry College, a small Christian school in Virginia that the lawmaker briefly attended in the fall of 2016.

Two resident assistants said they would warn women in their dorm not to go for rides with Cawthorn in his white Dodge Challenger. Cawthorn reportedly referred to these rides as “fun drives.”

“I got info from other RAs to warn the female student body not to go on joy rides with him because bad things happened on those joy rides,” Giovanna Lastra, one of the former RAs, told BuzzFeed.

One woman, Caitlin Coulter, recalled going on a drive with Cawthorn in which he asked invasive questions about the purity ring she was wearing. After 20 minutes of refusing to answer his questions, his demeanor changed and he drove dangerously back to campus.

Others told BuzzFeed that Cawthorn was frequently aggressive or misogynistic and that he called one woman a “little blonde slutty American girl” in front of a table of her peers. He also allegedly asked other men about which “race of girls gives the best blowjobs.”

BuzzFeed’s investigation comes after other allegations were made before the freshman representative was elected in November of last year.

In August of 2020, World Magazine reported that one woman, Katrina Krulikas, said Cawthorn had forcibly kissed her in 2014, when Cawthorn was 19 and she was 17. 

On a drive, Cawthorn asked Krulikas questions about whether or not she had sex before pressuring her to sit on his lap. He attempted to kiss her but she turned away. Cawthorn then tried again, holding her face, causing her to struggle to jump out of his lap.

During a campaign event in September 2020, Cawthorn denied the report, saying “I have never done anything sexually inappropriate in my life,” the Citizen Times reported.

However, Cawthorn apparently apologized to Krulikas in a text from February 2020 after a friend of hers mentioned the incident in response to one of his campaign texts. “I can see in hindsight how that was over the line and I am sorry,” he wrote.

Cawthorn has also come under scrutiny for questionable claims he has made about his past, including that he was training for the Paralympic Games and that the accident that put him in a wheelchair was the reason he could not atttend the Naval Academy.

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Facebook temporarily stops ads related to ‘weapon accessories and protective equipment’ ahead of the inauguration and after the Capitol Hill riot

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In this photo illustration a Facebook logo seen displayed on a smartphone.

  • Facebook is pausing advertisements for “weapon accessories and protective equipment” until two days after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, BuzzFeed News reported.
  • The move came after a report from Buzzfeed News’ Ryan Mac and and Craig Silverman, complaints from employees, and two separate letters to Facebook from some attorneys general and senators.
  • One letter to Facebook by four attorneys general said, “Facebook’s microtargeted advertising of such gear, including to audiences that have an affinity for extremist content and election misinformation, could promote and facilitate further politically motivated attacks.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Facebook will pause ads for “weapon accessories and protective equipment” ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, Buzzfeed News reported Saturday.

Facebook’s decision comes after recent reporting from Buzzfeed News’ Ryan Mac and and Craig Silverman, employee complaints, and concerns from senators and attorneys general who wrote letters to the company.

Buzzfeed News reported that this pause in the US will last at least until January 22, two days after the presidential inauguration.

Facebook updated a press release that details what the social network is doing ahead of the upcoming inauguration today with this new action. It is also pausing political ads on the site and blocking events created at the White House and state capitol buildings for that day as a cautionary measure.

“We will now also prohibit ads for accessories such as gun safes, vests and gun holsters in the US,” Facebook wrote in the press release about the pause. Weapon-related ads are already banned on Facebook.

There is heightened concern about political violence in DC, and in cities across the country, after pro-Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill on January 6 in an effort to stop the certification of president-elect Joe Biden. Biden’s inauguration rehearsal was recently postponed because of security threats, per Politico reporting.

Read more: There’s a basic problem with calling Facebook and Twitter ‘platforms’ – and it took Trump for us to see it

Buzzfeed News reported that these types of ads are shown in “News Feeds of people who had engaged with content about the attempted coup at the US Capitol building earlier this month,” Mac and Silverman wrote.

TTP Director Katie Paul told Buzzfeed News on January 13 that Facebook gets to profit these ads.

“Facebook’s advertising microtargeting is directing domestic extremists toward weapons accessories and armor that can make their militarized efforts more effective, all while Facebook profits,” Paul told Buzzfeed News.

Attorneys general also mentioned microtargeting in a letter sent to Will Castleberry for Facebook Public Policy on January 15. Karl Racine of DC, Kwame Raoul of Illinois, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, and Gurbir Grewal of New Jersey wrote the letter for Facebook to take “proactive steps” and take down these ads that might encourage violence ahead of the inauguration.

The four attorneys general wrote that people who were part of the storming on Capitol Hill wore “military-style tactical gear.”

Their letter continued: “We believe that Facebook’s microtargeted advertising of such gear, including to audiences that have an affinity for extremist content and election misinformation, could promote and facilitate further politically motivated attacks.”

Sens. Sherrod Brown, Tammy Duckworth, and Richard Blumenthal also wrote a letter on January 15 to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, requesting the company “hold itself accountable for how domestic enemies of the United States have used the company’s products and platform to further their own illicit aims.”

According to the letter, available through Buzzfeed News, the senators wanted Zuckerberg to “take immediate action” to remove these advertisements after the riot at Capitol Hill.

A number of companies and organizations have responded after the siege by suspending political contributions. Some corporations are suspending all political contributions at this time, while others are only suspending donations to the 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed the certification. Facebook is pausing all political donations for at least three months.

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