Billie Winner-Davis, mother of whistle-blower Reality Winner spoke out on CNN on May 29 with her claims that her daughter is being silenced.
Reality Winner was arrested in 2017 and charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet. Winner was a contractor at the National Security Agency, and she leaked documents to The Intercept that indicated Russian hackers had been able to access U.S. voting machines.
Winner was held at the Lincoln County Jail in Lincolnton, Georgia and was twice denied bail before her trial. She pleaded guilty to violating the Espionage act and was sentenced in 2018 to five years and three months in prison. Winner’s sentence is the longest of its kind, despite the former NSA contractor taking a plea deal.
Winner’s mother Billie Winner-Davis has been an outspoken advocate for her daughter, campaigning for her to be pardoned and released. You can watch her full CNN interview below:
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Billie Winner-Davis Left Her Career as a Social Worker to Advocate for Her Daughter
Before her daughter made national news, Winner-Davis was a social worker in Texas. In a letter to the activist organization Roots Action, she shared that she gave up her job in an attempt to help her daughter. “I took an early retirement from my career with Child Protective Services in Texas and relocated to Augusta in hopes that my living there would satisfy the Court and assure Reality bail,” she wrote.
“Being 1,700 miles away from home and incurring the costs of two households has been a financial strain, but it at least gives me the opportunity to visit with my daughter on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and to advocate for her.” She continued.
A Gofundme was set up to help Winner-Davis with the moving expenses she incurred and to help her advocate for Reality, but Winner-Davis claims that the government did not allow her to access the funds. Stand With Reality, a website created in support of the imprisoned whistleblower, details how the terms of Reality’s plea agreement prevent her from writing or transmitting her experience for compensation of any kind.
The site goes on to say that due to this clause in Reality’s plea, Winner-Davis was forced to issue the money from the GoFundMe to the Federal Asset Forfeiture program. The campaign raised $65,570.
2. She Is Outraged by the Way Her Daughter Has Been Treated Compared to Other Players in the Russia Investigation
Winner-Davis has shared her views on her daughter’s punishment before. In a December 2018 opinion piece in The Intercept titled, “My Daughter Reality Winner Faced Severe Punishment, but Key Figures in the Trump-Russia Scandal Are Getting Off Easy” she wrote, “It is maddening to watch my daughter in prison as the so-called justice system interacts in such drastically different ways with Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen.”
In the piece, she compared Paul Manafort being allowed to travel to the Hamptons for Christmas in 2017 to the conditions her daughter faced in prison, writing that at the same time, “our family celebrated that Reality had been given fresh fruit, a gift from a local church, and the very first fresh anything since her arrest on June 3, 2017.”
Winner-Davis has also taken to Twitter to share her daughter’s story, and is organizing a protest in Washington, DC to mark the second anniversary of her arrest.
3. Winner-Davis Claims Her Daughter Is Barred from Talking to the Press
In her interview with CNN, Winner-Davis claims that her daughter is forbidden to talk to the media. She said, “She knows with her plea agreement what she can and cannot discuss, but the Bureau of Prisons has made it harder for her because they’re telling her she cannot have any contact with any kind of journalist or media in any way, shape, or form.”
Winner-Davis believes that the Bureau of Prisons has blocked her daughter from talking to the press because, “The prosecution painted her to be a very evil person, and I honestly believe that they are afraid that if America gets to know who Reality Leigh Winner really is, they’re going to see that that wasn’t the case at all.” CNN reporters attempted to get access to speak to Reality Winner, but they were denied.
During Reality Winner’s trial, the prosecution presented a journal entry she had written saying she wanted to “burn the White House down” as evidence that she was a malicious traitor. They also cited a comment Winner once made stating she “hate[s] America” because of capitalism.
On CNN, Winner-Davis shared a Christmas card Reality made for her in prison. “You deserve so much more than this little card because you are my mom and my home,” she read aloud.
“That’s who Reality is,” she said, holding back tears.
4. She Worries About How Her Daughter’s Eating Disorder Is Being Treated in Prison
According to a November 2018 report in The Intercept, after her daughter’s arrest Winner-Davis learned that Reality was diagnosed with bulimia while still in the Air Force. Winner told The Intercept that her eating disorder had worsened while she was in prison. “I keep saying it can’t get worse. I try to be optimistic, and then they just surprise me and I’m just like, I signed a plea deal to get help.”
Winner told a federal judge that without treatment, she feared bulimia could be the only way she would know how to cope with the stress of being incarcerated. She said, “The disorder is a constant struggle for me and even now is the most pressing internal challenge in my day-to-day survival.”
According to The Intercept, Winner maintains a vegan diet while in prison, sometimes just eating chips and peanut butter. Winner-Davis told them her daughter “celebrates” getting plant-based foods like black-eyed peas or white potatoes.
In her letter on Roots Action, Winner-Davis wrote, “The impact this has had on Reality and our entire family is devastating. Because of her special diet, Reality’s nutritional and medical needs are not met in jail.”
5. She Believes that What Her Daughter Did Was Patriotic
On CNN, Winner-Davis said, “I think that we as Americans deserved that proof. So how is it that she putus in danger by giving us that proof? I wouldn’t change what she’s done because I think that what she did was noble and I think that what she did was patriotic.”
Despite standing by her daughter’s actions, Winner-Davis does acknowledge that she should be held accountable for them. In The Intercept, Winner-Davis wrote, “She certainly should be held accountable for her actions, and she is. But other figures in the news today — those who actually played roles in the malfeasance surrounding the Trump campaign and transition — do not appear to be paying near the price that she and our family are paying.”