Ex-Senate aide appears in federal court after indictment

Ali Watkins

Ali Watkins

Jim Wolfe, a longtime former director of security at the Senate Intelligence Committee, was indicted and arrested Thursday night for giving false statements to F.B.I. agents during their investigation into leaks of classified information to the media.

A former Senate intelligence committee aide was arrested Thursday on charges of lying to FBI agents during an investigation into whether he leaked classified information to reporters.

"[He] maintained that he had never disclosed to REPORTER #2 classified information or information that he learned as Director of Security for the (Committee) that was not otherwise publicly available", the indictment said.

Maryland U.S. District Judge J. Mark Coulson granted Wolfe's release, but with several conditions, at courthouse in downtown Baltimore on Friday afternoon.

The Justice Department had a reporter's emails and phone records seized amid an investigation into who is leaking information from the White House to the media.

It said Watkins had been in a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe.

Wolfe was charged with three counts of making false statements to investigators when they interviewed him in December.

"It certainly seems like the Justice Department may have violated these internal guidelines as part of this case, which require the Justice Department "exhaust" all other means of investigating before considering directly going after a journalist", Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in a statement.

The Times added that Watkins was informed by the DOJ on February 13 that subscriber and customer service information from her email and phone accounts with Verizon and Google were obtained, though they did not have the content of the messages.

The seizures would mark the first time that the Justice Department under Trump is known to have authorized prosecutors to obtain a reporter's records as part of a leak investigation. The reporter is Ali Watkins, who now works for The New York Times. It appears one focus of the FBI's probe was a BuzzFeed article published in April 2017 in which she reported that Russian spies tried to recruit former Trump adviser Carter Page in 2013.

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"I'm a big, big believer in freedom of the press", Trump said.

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.

At the time, Watkins was a reporter for BuzzFeed.

Yet, one person should be especially discomforted by the indictment: former Federal Bureau of Investigation deputy director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeAct like a spy, talk like a spy, they'll call you an informant Draft of DOJ watchdog report says Comey defied authority: report The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by PhRMA - Primary results give both parties hopes for November MORE. This referral by career Justice Department officials is based on their finding that McCabe knowingly lied to investigators about leaking information to the media. According to the indictment, Wolfe lied about having had contact with the reporters between December 2015 and December 2017. NPR's Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department and is on the line. Attorney General Jeff Sessions bragged previous year that his DOJ was pursuing three times as many leak investigations as were open at the end of the Obama administration, but this is the first known instance of the Trump administration continuing those tactics against the press.

Page reacted to the news of Wolfe's indictment on Twitter, writing that it was now "more understandable" how NBC staffers always knew he'd be showing up for appearances before the Senate committee. On Oct. 17, Reporter #3 asked Wolfe, using the encrypted messaging app Signal, to provide Page's contact information, and Wolfe obliged, according to the indictment.

"Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection", Murphy said.

"They involve leaks of classified information, potentially involving the Russian Federation probe to reporters, three, possibly more, including a New York Times reporter", the Connecticut Democrat told CNN.

The indictment alleges Wolfe also had contact with three other reporters, referred to only as Reporter #1, Reporter #3 and Reporter #4.

The Senate by unanimous consent agreed to aid the Justice Department in its leak investigation earlier this week.

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