Veteran of Senate Intel Committee charged with lying in leak investigation

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

Leaker found? Former Senate staffer charged with lying to FBI about reporter contacts

Each false-statement count is punishable by up to five years in prison, though if convicted, Wolfe would likely face only a fraction of that time.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) expressed disappointment following news of the indictment of a former committee aide who is charged with lying to investigators about media leaks. The DOJ also accuse Wolfe of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about providing two reporters with non-public information about committee matters. He worked closely with both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

The prosecution comes amid a Trump administration crackdown on leaks of classified information.

He did not enter a plea and was released on several conditions, including that he turn in his passport, travel only in Maryland and, for legal proceedings, in the District of Columbia, and that he not make unauthorized disclosures of classified information. 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.

Buzzfeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith said on Twitter that the online publication is "deeply troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter's constitutional right to gather information about her own government". Watkins is suspected of receiving information from Wolfe, who she was in a relationship with for three years. The FBI then showed him a picture of the two of them together.

Following the delivery by an unnamed executive branch agency of a classified document to the Senate committee on 17 March 2017, the government alleges, Wolfe exchanged 82 text messages with Watkins "and that evening engaged in a 28-minute phone call" with her. Burr and Warner added that the Wolfe case will "in no way" interfere with the committee's ongoing probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 US election.

The court papers indicate Watkins and Wolfe had a "personal relationship" dating back to 2014.

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Watkins reportedly had a relationship with Wolfe but claims he was not a source of information.

The indictment alleges that on March 17, 2017, USA intelligence agencies provided a classified document to the Senate Intelligence Committee. The DOJ indictment said she was an undergraduate student working as an intern when their "personal relationship" formed about that time. 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.

Court documents say the national security reporter was made aware February 13 that Justice Department officials obtained "years of records for two email accounts and a phone number of hers", in relation to its ongoing probe of James A. Wolfe. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the New York Times, was quoted in the newspaper saying: "Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection". One of those leaks involved Carter Page, Trump's former foreign policy adviser, who was issued a subpoena by the committee for testimony. The seizure of a New York Times journalists' communications further suggests Trump is no friend of the fourth estate.

President Barack Obama's Department of Justice set the stage for this behavior, so this isn't a case of Trump "normalizing" snooping on the press.

"Any time that a journalist's ability to do their job is threatened in a manner such as this, it's a major concern", Politico spokesman Brad Dayspring said, according to the organization.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has previously told members of Congress that his department is taking the leak "epidemic" seriously, but Wolfe's case appears to be the first publicly known instance of the Justice Department targeting a reporter's data under President Donald Trump.

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