Former security chief for Senate Intel Committee indicted

Ali Watkins

James Wolfe, who served as director of security at the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee for almost three decades, has been arrested for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of a probe into leaks of classified information.

As part of the investigation into Wolfe, the Trump administration seized years' worth of phone and email records from Ali Watkins, a New York Times reporter with whom Wolfe was having a relationship.

At this time, Wolfe has not been convicted of wrongdoing in relation to the charges of making false statements and he was not charged with leaking classified information in the federal indictment released by the Justice Department.

Watkins, who met Wolfe in 2013 when she was a college intern and freelance reporter in Washington, D.C., wrote dozens of articles about the intelligence committee, the indictment said.

Former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe appears in federal court in Baltimore.

A prosecutor informed Watkins in a February 13 letter that the Justice Department had obtained records and subscriber information from communications companies, including Google and Verizon, pertaining to two email accounts and a phone number belonging to her, according to the Times, which learned of the letter on Thursday. The senators said they were informed of the investigation late-last year and that the committee has been cooperating with the FBI and the Department of Justice.

In a December FBI interview, Wolfe was asked whether he had had communication with three reporters, according to the indictment. In a statement to the newspaper, her personal lawyer, Mark MacDougall, called it "disconcerting" that the Justice Department had obtained a journalist's telephone records.

It was the first known instance during the Trump administration of the Justice Department going after a reporter's data.

In a statement, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, said the panel is "troubled" by the charges.

Wolfe abruptly departed the senate panel at the end of 2017 where he worked under leadership of both parties since 1987, reported CNN. Late previous year, Sessions said the department had 27 open leak investigations - dwarfing what had also been a high number of leak probes pursued by the Obama administration. Watkins worked for BuzzFeed News and Politico before joining the Times.

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The Obama administration had its own repeated tangles with journalists, including secretly subpoenaing phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors during a 2012 leak investigation into a story about a bomb plot.

"This will in no way interfere with our ongoing investigation", the statement said.

First off, the Trump adminstration has been all too clear about its scorn for established press rights - with the president himself boasting about how he'd love to change libel-law protections and speculating about locking up reporters. Prosecutors say he also lied about giving two reporters non-public information about committee matters. "She published an article for BuzzFeed News on April 3, 2017, about the attempted recruitment of Mr. Page in which he confirmed the contacts".

Wolfe is accused of using the same messaging app to serve as an unnamed source for a third reporter, and of communicating with a fourth reporter using his Senate email account from 2015 to 2017.

The government says that Wolfe provided information that helped Watkins with a scoop about - it turns out to be a story on Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page and about how Russians had tried to recruit him back in 2013.

Federal prosecutors obtained reporters' records in several cases under President Barack Obama, but the Justice Department in Obama's second term adopted rules created to shield reporters in many circumstances.

"This decision by the Justice Department will endanger the ability of reporters to promise confidentiality to their sources and, ultimately, undermine the ability of a free press to shine a much needed light on government actions", said Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy.


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