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Intelligence Committee Staffer Indicted

11 June 2018
Intelligence Committee Staffer Indicted

James Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, was arrested on Thursday and indicted on charges of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its probe of the illegal disclosure of classified information.

As part of the investigation into Wolfe, federal law enforcement officials secretly seized a New York Times reporter's phone and email records, the newspaper said. Wolfe, the committee's former director of security, was arrested on Thursday at his home in Ellicott City, Maryland.

On Oct. 16, 2017, Wolfe told another reporter, identified as REPORTER #3, that he had served Page with a subpoena to testify before the intelligence committee, the prosecutors say. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said he lied about his relationship with the reporter and about revealing information to her.

Court documents say the national security reporter was made aware February 13 that Justice Department officials obtained "years of records for two email accounts and a phone number of hers", in relation to its ongoing probe of James A. Wolfe.

The Times noted, meanwhile, that Watkins had been in a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe, and that the indictment is based on false statements about the relationship. The Times said that Watkins had a relationship with Wolfe before she joined the newspaper. Before obtaining records that could reveal a journalist's sources, investigators are required to have "made all reasonable attempts to obtain the information from alternative, non-media sources".

"Journalists must be able to protect their confidential sources", the Committee to Protect Journalists said, adding that this was the "first known incident" in Trump's presidency in which prosecutors collected such data from reporters.

On March 17, 2017, Wolfe, who was tasked with protecting sensitive information shared with the committee's lawmakers and with escorting witnesses to their testimony, received a classified document regarding "Male-1", or Page.

In a separate instance, the indictment said that Wolfe used the encrypted messaging app Signal to inform a female journalist he had served a person with a subpoena in the Russian Federation investigation, the government said. "That should be a grave concern to anyone who cares about an informed citizenry". Wolfe also did not respond to requests for comments. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that the Justice Department may change some of those rules, which some prosecutors say have hindered investigations. He left the organization in December and formally retired in May, reported the New York Times.

"We respect the important role that the press plays, and we'll give them respect, but it is not unlimited", Sessions said at the time. He allegedly told investigators that he did not have contact with any reporter, when in fact he had repeated contact with 3 reporters.

"Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges", MacDougall said in a statement.

Coulson also ordered Wolfe not to access or discuss classified information with undisclosed people, not to possess a personal identification other than his own, and to make weekly check-ins with authorities - all were stipulations of release requested by the federal prosecutor, Phil Selden.

New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said in a statement, "Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and we believe that communications between journalists and their sources demand protection".

Burr and Warner, who did not mention Wolfe by name, said in the statement that "this news is disappointing, as the former staffer in question served on the committee for more than three decades and in the Armed Forces with distinction".

"Journalism major Ali Watkins spent some of her internship at McClatchy DC News hanging around elevators and locked doors - but not because she was idle". Watkins appears to be referred to as Reporter #2 in the indictment.

BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith tweeted Friday morning that the case around Wolfe seemed to stem from an article Watkins wrote in April 2017 about former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.