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Former Senate intelligence committee staffer indicted for lying to FBI about leaks

June 11, 2018


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The former top security officer for the Senate intelligence committee was arrested Thursday and charged with lying about leaks of classified information.

The indictment indicates James A. Wolfe leaked information to reporters on Trump campaign figure Carter Page.

The charges — three counts of lying to the FBI about contacts with reporters — are a black eye for the intelligence committee, some of whose members have been among the fiercest critics of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Wolfe’s arrest comes the same day that the New York Times said the Justice Department had seized years worth of email and phone records belonging to one of its reporters, Ali Watkins.

Ms. Watkins had a three-year romantic relationship with Mr. Wolfe, and she appears to be a person referred to in the indictment as Reporter #2.

The indictment says Mr. Wolfe, now 58, started a relationship in 2013 with an undergraduate student who was also working as an intern with a news service.

They exchanged tens of thousands of text messages over the next few years, according to the document, including one message where he admits he “always tried to give you as much information that I could and to do the right thing with it so you could get that scoop before anyone else.”

The two also exchanged a number of messages on April 3, 2017, the indictment says — the day Ms. Watkins, then a reporter at BuzzFeed, wrote a story saying Mr. Page “met with a Russian spy.”

The indictment says Reporter #2 then appeared on a national cable television network to talk about the story — and Ms. Watkins appeared on MSNBC that night.“Approximately 90 minutes later, Wolfe and Reporter #2 had a phone call lasting 15 minutes,” the indictment says.

Roughly one month before the Buzzfeed article appeared, the Senate intelligence committee received a classified document detailing Mr. Page’s activities. That day, Mr. Wolfe — who received, maintained and managed the document — exchanged 82 text messages with Reporter #2 as well as a 28-minute phone call later that evening, according to the indictment.

Mr. Wolfe stopped doing work at the committee in December and retired from his job last month, The New York Times said in a story posted to its website Thursday.

Ms. Watkins, in the story, admitted to the relationship but denied Mr. Wolfe had been a source. She said she had told both BuzzFeed and Politico, her previous employers, about her relationship. The relationship had ended by the time she joined The Times, the paper said.

The Times said federal investigators had seized email and phone records, but not the contents of the communications. She was informed of the seizure Feb. 13.

Mark J. McDougall, a lawyer for Ms. Watkins, told CNN on Thursday night that it is “disconcerting” that the Justice Department obtained his client’s phone and email records.

“Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and scope of any charges,” Mr. McDougall told the network.

The indictment also says Mr. Wolfe leaked information, apparently also about Mr. Page, to someone identified as Reporter #3.

And the indictment says Mr. Wolfe reached out to someone identified as Reporter #4 and offered to be a source, regularly sharing messages and phone calls.

 On Dec. 15, 2017, FBI agents presented Mr. Wolfe with a questionnaire about his relationship with reporters, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday. Mr. Wolfe, under the penalty of perjury, told the investigators had never had a personal relationship with any reporter.

He also denied being a source for a story, adding that he did not know who was leaking classified information to the press.

The Justice Department claims Mr. Wolfe regularly met in secret with two of the reporters the FBI questioned him about as well as other journalists. Those meetings were often held in places unlikely to be discocered by others, including secluded areas of the Hart Senate Office building, restaurants, bars and private residences, prosecutors alleged in the indictment.

“The allegations in this indictment are doubly troubling as the false statements concern the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and confidential information,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers. “Those entrusted with sensitive information must discharge their duties with honesty and integrity, and that includes telling the truth to law enforcement.”

Sens. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, and Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat, released a statement Thursday night saying they didn’t believe any classified information was involved in the leaks.

But the two men — respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee — still said they were “troubled.”

“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,” they said. “However, we trust the justice system to act appropriately and ensure due process as this case unfolds. This will in no way interfere with our ongoing investigation, and the Committee remains committed to carrying out our important work on behalf of the American people.”

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence oversees the country’s national security agencies, including the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency. It is said to have some of the strictest rules regarding the release of sensitive information.

On Wednesday evening, the committee quietly passed a resolution authorizing its members to share confidential documents with the Justice Department in connection to the investigation.
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