Top US Senate staffer charged in leak investigation

The Justice Department is looking into whether a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide leaked classified information

Top US Senate staffer charged in leak investigation

A former employee of the Senate intelligence committee appeared before a federal court in Maryland Friday after being arrested for lying to the FBI about contacts with multiple reporters.

James Wolfe, 58, was indicted on three counts of making false statements about his contacts with three reporters.

The information given to reporters described in the indictment appears to relate to the committee's interest in Carter Page, an adviser to the Trump presidential campaign who traveled to Russian Federation in 2016, including the news that he had been served with a subpoena by the committee. The FBI says it was investigating leaks of classified information by Wolfe to the press. Wolfe is scheduled to make his initial appearance on Friday morning at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. But the revelation late Thursday that the FBI had secretly seized years' worth of Watkins' phone and email records, dating back to when she was a student at Temple University, raised questions about her relationship with the man at the center of the investigation.

Wolfe's arrest and indictment follows a previous threat from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said the department planned to ratchet up its probe of internal leaks.

Last August, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Department of Justice had already received nearly as many "criminal referrals involving unauthorized disclosures of classified information" as had been received in the last three years.

The Justice Department used security badge access records to track his comings and goings from the State Department, The Washington Post wrote at the time: "They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report".

It's rare for the government to obtain the communications of reporters as part of a leak investigation, and the seizure of Watkins's records, the first known case under the Trump administration, signals the aggressiveness with which officials are pursuing leaks to the press.

In May 2017, the national security reporter was hired by Politico, staying for eight months before joining the New York Times, where she presently works.

"Journalism major Ali Watkins spent some of her internship at McClatchy DC News hanging around elevators and locked doors - but not because she was idle".

An article under Watkins' byline appeared online on the BuzzFeed news site on that date revealing Page's contact with a Russian intelligence operative.

"Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and we believe that communications between journalists and their sources demand protection", Eileen Murphy, the Times spokeswoman, said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the intelligence panel confirmed Wolfe's charges were dropped in 2004 and said his security clearance was reissued in 2008.

In April 2017, Watkins was employed by 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. "But I'm also a believer in classified information".

Wolfe later admitted that he lied to investigators about having contact with one of the reporters after investigators furnished a picture of he and the reporter, according to the indictment.

Wolfe allegedly called her almost a half-hour after the story went live and had a phone conversation for about seven minutes. "It is thus unclear whether the search complied even with the Justice Department's own guidelines relating to surveillance of the media". Prosecutors said Wolfe communicated with a fourth reporter using his Senate email account from 2015 to 2017. "That should be a grave concern to anyone who cares about an informed citizenry", she added.

Watch more above, via CNN.

According to the Times, this is the first time the Trump administration has sought a reporter's records. "The way the indictment is written is clearly aimed at launching a disgusting smear of a reporter, and it has had that effect", he said.

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