The former head of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee was arrested Thursday on charges that he lied to the FBI about his contacts with reporters in an investigation into leaks. He has served as lead counsel in various national security cases, including the representation of a former House Intelligence Committee staffer accused of leaking classified information to the media.
At one point, he was presented with a news article containing classified information and was asked, in a written questionnaire, if he had had contact with any of the piece's three authors. He allegedly told investigators that he did not have contact with any reporter, when in fact he had repeated contact with 3 reporters. Although the reporters are not named in the indictment, The New York Times says that Ali Watkins, who works for the newspaper, was one of them.
The FBI asserted that Wolfe had helped Watkins with articles while they were dating but Watkins said Wolfe was not a source of classified information during their relationship, according to the Times. She did not answer their questions. The newspaper also said that Watkins said Wolfe was not a source of classified information for her during their relationship. The FBI seized Watkins' emails and phone records dating back to 2014 as part of the investigation of Wolfe. The FBI then showed him a picture of the two of them together.
As part of the probe, the Justice Department took the unusual step of seizing Watkins' phone and email records. 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.
Page has denied any involvement in possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation. Wolfe is scheduled to make his initial appearance on Friday morning at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. He stopped working for the committee in December after being questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and he formally retired in May.
The indictment details Wolfe's alleged contact with three reporters, whose identifies were not immediately revealed. "Ms. Watkins did not disclose the personal nature of her relationship early on in her tenure, and she was managed accordingly thereafter".
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The indictment alleges Watkins and Wolfe spoke on the phone for about seven minutes shortly after the piece was published.
"It's always disconcerting when a journalist's telephone records are obtained by the Justice Department - through a grand jury subpoena or other legal process", said Watkins's personal lawyer, Mark J. MacDougall. While the info obtained may have been necessary to prove Wolfe lied to investigators, it does seem like a serious breach first amendment boundaries for nothing but vanilla "lied to the feds" charges.
A Justice Department official who spoke on background because the matter pertains to an ongoing criminal investigation said all regulations were followed. The seizure of Watkins' communications records was the first such action against a reporter during the Trump administration, though the justice department used similar tactics during the Barack Obama presidency. President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have decried such disclosures, and announced a sharp increase in leak investigations.
The charges should serve as a warning to those who consider lying to law enforcement, said Jessie K. Liu, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
In an indictment unsealed late Thursday, prosecutors charged James Wolfe with three counts of making false statements to federal authorities. "The allegations in this indictment are doubly troubling as the false statements concern the unauthorized disclosures of sensitive and confidential information".