August 15, 2018

Ex-Senate aide charged with lying about reporter contacts

10 June 2018, 08:25 | Darnell Patrick

US Senate aide charged over leaking stories to reporters

Ex-Senate intel aide charged after DOJ seizes reporter's records

As the Senate committee's security chief, Wolfe, 57, was responsible for safeguarding all classified information in the committee's possession.

President Donald Trump on Friday praised the arrest of a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide who is accused of lying to investigators about his contacts with reporters in an inquiry into leaks of classified information.

A spokesman for prosecutors said Wolfe did not enter a plea at a brief court hearing in Baltimore and was released on bail.

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. On Thursday, Ms. Watkins told her editors that Mr. Wolfe was not a source of classified information for articles she had written during their relationship, which ended past year.

Wolfe will appear before the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on Friday, according to media reports.

The indictment said Wolfe, 58, began dating Watkins - who is in her 20's - in 2013 when she was an undergraduate student working as a news intern. He also maintained a yearslong personal relationship with one reporter, which prosecutors say he lied about until being confronted with a photograph of him and the journalist.

In a statement Thursday night, Watkins' attorney, Mark MacDougall, said: "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".

Referring to an "explosion" of leaks since President Trump took office, Sessions said the Justice Department has "more than tripled" the number of active leak investigations compared to the number pending at the end of the Obama administration.

INSKEEP: OK. So part of this is getting the phone records of a New York Times reporter or someone who worked for a number of news organizations including, ultimately, The New York Times.

Watkins wrote an article a year ago, for example, revealing that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in 2013.

"That's the reason that as a one-time reporter and as a prosecutor I am sensitive to drawing the line in a way that includes reporting accurately and using leaks when it involves information useful to the public", said Blumenthal.

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Another of Watkins' former employers also faulted the Justice Department's conduct.

Burr and Warner, who did not mention Wolfe by name, said in the statement that "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".

Per the filing, Wolfe told "Reporter #3" on October 16 that he served Page with a subpoena, and the next day agreed to the reporter's request to provide Page's contact information.

The Wolfe indictment shows the Justice Department has been actively pursuing leaks out of Congress.

She says he was not a source while she was at the Times or other places she has worked: "Mr. Wolfe was not a source of information for Ms. Watkins during their relationship, she said, adding that she told editors at Buzzfeed News and Politico about it and continued to cover national security, including the committee's work". Wolfe was the committee's security director.

When asked about the delay between Watkins' receipt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation letter and the notification of the Times, Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman, said it was up to Watkins to respond.

INSKEEP: So what exactly did Wolfe do according to - according to prosecutors?

"That should be a grave concern to anyone who cares about an informed citizenry", she concluded.

"I've watched your career take off even before you ever had a career in journalism", he said, according to the indictment. It is the first time the Trump administration is known to have engaged in such an aggressive tactic against a reporter, and it is exactly the kind of press surveillance at which the Obama administration excelled.

The media coverage is, predictably, very concerned that the Justice Department secretly collected records of Watkins' communications.

Based on the information in the indictment, REPORTER #2 is Watkins.

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