Ex-Senate Aide Appears Before Federal Court After Indictment

Frederick Owens
June 10, 2018

Watkins' records were seized as part of an investigation into Jim Wolfe, a former director of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The information came to light as it was announced that James A. Wolfe, a former employee of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was arrested on charges of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation amid a probe into the disclosure of classified information.

According to the authorities, Mr. Wolfe made false statements to the F.B.I. about providing two of them with sensitive information related to the committee's work.

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 Times said that Watkins had a relationship with Wolfe before she joined the newspaper. The presiding judge in Baltimore Friday also told Wolfe he must turn in his passport, and he is restricted to travel in Maryland and D.C. for court appearances and to meet with his lawyers.

"The records of that Times reporter were seized in the course of the FBI investigation, which is also troubling, because there are procedures that provide seizure of reporter records, emails and phone records only as a last resort, only after certain threshold standards are met and only after notification to the reporter".

Wolfe was charged with three counts of making false statements to investigators when they interviewed him in December. And then late past year, he said that the Justice Department had 27 leak investigations underway, which was roughly triple the number of the Obama administration. He checked "no" even though records obtained by the government show that he had been in communication with one of them.

The advocacy group says it's the first known incident in which prosecutors have gone after journalist data under President Donald Trump. Prior to joining the newspaper, Watkins worked for BuzzFeed News and Politico.

"I'm a big, big believer in freedom of the press", Trump said on Friday, "but I'm also a believer in classified information".

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.

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Elements within the government have always been suspected in engaging in selective leaks, including classified information, to the media in an effort to control the news narrative.

Over the past year, as the committee's Russian Federation inquiry heated up, Wolfe was responsible for escorting high-profile witnesses into the committee's secure spaces, including Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

Before she started at the Times, FBI agents sought information from her about a romantic relationship she had with Wolfe, but Watkins said she didn't answer those questions, which were part of an investigation into unauthorized leaks.

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

"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. Watkins appears to be referred to as Reporter #2 in the indictment.

When law enforcement officials obtained journalists' records during the Obama administration, members of Congress in both parties sounded alarms, and the moves touched off such a firestorm among advocates for press freedom that helped prompt the Justice Department to rewrite its relevant guidelines.

First off, the Trump adminstration has been all too clear about its scorn for established press rights - with the president himself boasting about how he'd love to change libel-law protections and speculating about locking up reporters.

Lauren Easton, director of media relations for the AP, said Friday, "The Associated Press opposes any government overreach that jeopardizes the ability of journalists to freely and safely do their jobs and undermines the vital distinction between the government and the press".

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