Ex-Senate aide charged with lying about reporter contacts

Pauline Gross
June 10, 2018

Watkins had a relationship with James A. Wolfe, the Senate Intelligence Committee's retired director of security.

A former employee of the Senate intelligence committee appeared before a federal court Friday on charges that he lied about his contacts with reporters, a case President Donald Trump said could be a "terrific thing" as his administration tries to crack down on classified leaks.

Wolfe, 58, has been accused of repeatedly giving false statements to federal agents in December 2017, when he was asked about his communication with three reporters, reported CNBC.

In the indictment, it's indicated that after Wolfe handled classified documents related to the "Russia probe", he exchanged 82 text messages with a reporter the same evening.

The Post suggests that Watkins' relationship with Wolfe may have created conflicts of interest, particularly when she worked at McClatchy, because she reportedly didn't inform the outlet of the relationship.

DiGenova (pictured above left, beside Washington Examiner columnist Byron York), who was US attorney for the District of Columbia under President Ronald Reagan, told Fox News host Laura Ingraham Friday on "The Ingraham Angle" that Wolfe could face a lengthy prison sentence if convicted.

A prosecutor informed Watkins in a February 13 letter that the Justice Department had obtained records and subscriber information from communications companies, including Google and Verizon, pertaining to two email accounts and a phone number belonging to her, according to the Times, which learned of the letter on Thursday.

Wolfe's apparent communication via texts, emails, calls, and in-person conversations with these journalists contradicts sworn statements he made to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in December denying having contact with reporters.

"The attorney general has stated that investigations and prosecutions of unauthorized disclosure of controlled information are a priority of the Department of Justice", Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement late Thursday.

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The seized material does not include the contents of Watkins' emails, but does include customer records from Verizon and Google covering two email accounts and a phone she used, the newspaper reported. Her name is Ali Watkins.

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".

A spokesman for the intelligence panel confirmed that Wolfe's charges were dropped in 2004 and said his security clearance was reissued in 2008. According to the April 2017 Buzzfeed article by Watkins, in a previous indictment dating from January 2015 of Russian intelligence operative Victor Podobnyy, MALE-1 was a reference to Page. It's a crime to leak classified information. Attorney General Jeff Sessions bragged a year ago 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.

The news of the seizure of Watkins' records surfaced Thursday when Wolfe, 57, was arrested and charged with lying to investigators about his contacts with three reporters, including Watkins, who is now 26. The pair communicated on an often daily basis over the course of almost four years.

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.

According to his LinkedIn page, Wolfe earned a degree in Business Administration and Management from the University of Maryland College Park. "That should be a grave concern to anyone who cares about an informed citizenry".

Later in Obama's second term, perhaps aware of how history would judge this unsavory part of his presidential record, the administration backed off its aggressive pursuit of reporters' sources. Watkins appears to be referred to as Reporter #2 in the indictment.

One of the most extreme attacks on press freedom under Obama was when DOJ obtained the phone records of various journalists to find their sources.

Other reports by GizPress

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