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Ex-Senate Aide Charged With Lying About Reporter Contacts

June 08, 2018

A former employee of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has been indicted and arrested on charges of making false statements to FBI special agents during an investigation into the unlawful disclosure of classified information, the Justice Department announced late Thursday.

The agency said James Wolfe, 58, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of making false statement to the FBI about his contacts with five reporters.

Wolfe was arrested Thursday and will make his first appearance in U.S. District Court Friday.

Five reporters

The Justice Department said Wolfe lied to FBI agents in December 2017, when he was the director of security for the Senate committee, a position he held for nearly 30 years, about his “repeated contacts” with three reporters, including through messaging applications.

Wolfe is also alleged to have made false statements to the FBI, according to the Justice Department, “about providing two reporters with nonpublic information related to the matters occurring before the SSCI.”

Jessie Liu, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said, “Mr. Wolfe’s alleged conduct is a betrayal of the extraordinary public trust that had been placed in him.”

Reporter's records seized

The New York Times reported Thursday that the FBI investigation of Wolfe led to the seizure of the phone and email records of one of its reporters, Ali Watkins, who had been in a three-year personal relationship with Wolfe.

The Justice Department said Wolfe as the Intelligence Committee’s security director was entrusted with access to classified secret and top secret information provided by the executive branch, including the U.S. Intelligence Community, to the committee. The department said in a statement that “Wolfe was responsible for safeguarding all classified information in the possession of the SSCI.”

The New York Times said the Justice Department notified Watkins by letter in February that her records had been seized. The newspaper said, however, it did not know about the letter until Thursday. The Times said the letter came from the national security division of the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.

The Times said the FBI approached Watkins before she began working at the newspaper about whether Wolfe had helped her with articles while they were dating. She did not answer the questions from the FBI, the newspaper said.

The Times said the FBI asked Wolfe that same month about an article Watkins wrote. According to the newspaper, Wolfe denied knowing Watkins until FBI agents showed him photographs of the two together.

Watkins worked for Politico and BuzzFeed News before The New York Times.

It is an extremely rare move for the U.S. government to seize a reporter’s records. A spokeswoman for The New York Times said, “Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection.”

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