Michael Cohen tells Business Insider he's working to free Reality Winner, a whistleblower imprisoned by the Trump administration for leaking a classified report on Russian election hacking

By Charles Davis

President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, says he is working to free Reality Winner, a former US intelligence specialist who leaked classified evidence regarding the Russian government's efforts to intervene in the 2016 election.

"We had this amazing conversation," Billie Winner-Davis, Reality's mother, told Business Insider during a phone call on Monday. "He talked with me about different ways that he could maybe help my daughter — you know, to get a good attorney involved with her team to try to get compassionate release for her."

Reality Winner, 28, was in 2018 sentenced to five years and three months in prison for sending The Intercept a classified report from the National Security Agency detailing Moscow's efforts to hack a US voting software supplier and dozens of local election systems. Charged under the US Espionage Act, Winner's is the longest sentence ever handed out to a whistleblower.

Speaking to Business Insider over the summer, Winner-Davis lamented the lack of activist support for her daughter, compared to other national security whistleblowers. She also expressed some resentment over the fact that her daughter was denied compassionate release during the pandemic while others who worked for Trump, such as Cohen and former campaign manager Paul Manafort, enjoyed the relative comforts of house arrest.

"As each chapter of this unfolds, I see just how corrupt our system really is, and I see just how powerless the average American is," Winner-Davis said at the time.

Weeks later, Reality was one of more than 500 women to contract COVID-19 at the Federal Medical Center in Ft. Worth, Texas, where she is incarcerated.

Cohen, who himself pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying about President Trump's business dealings in Russia, among other crimes, told Business Insider that he recognizes there is something poetic — indeed, ironic — about his taking up Winner's case. Working to free a woman who revealed Russian electoral interference, undertaken to help his former boss win an election, is part of making up for his previous life, he said.

"I told [Billie] I would like to pay it forward and see if I can help another innocent person who's been railroaded by the system," Cohen said. "It's only a small part of my need to make amends."

Cohen, who's serving a three-year sentence for tax evasion and campaign finance violations, said that he's meeting with an attorney this week to take a "deep dive" into Winner's case with an eye toward obtaining her compassionate release — "to reunite a mother with her daughter and to make her family whole again"

"I know what it's like for a family to be torn apart and the sadness it brings," Cohen said. "If I can help to alleviate that, I'd feel slightly better about myself."

Winner-Davis, who said her daughter is now feeling better but frustrated with her prison's ongoing, "torturous" lockdown, is hopeful that Cohen means what he says, and that he can help deliver the compassionate release that he himself obtained — but has repeatedly been denied to Reality.

"This is a good guy who got wrapped up into a bad world," she said.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com