A former Senate staff member who had access to classified information has been indicted as part of the Justice Department’s effort to crack down on sensitive information leaks.
James A. Wolfe, 58, who served as the security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, was indicted for lying to the FBI as it investigated the leaks, Fox News reported.
Ali Watkins is one of the reporters Wolfe is accused of contacting with sensitive information. Watkins currently writes for The New York Times, but wrote for other publications during the time period covered by the investigation.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Watkins had a romantic relationship with Wolfe from 2014 through 2017, and that federal investigators had seized past email and phone records belonging to Watkins.
The investigation focused on the leak of information pertaining to former Trump campaign aide Carter Page and any contact between Page and Russia, according to The Times. Watkins wrote an article for the website BuzzFeed in April 2017 about Page.
Wolfe is accused of lying about his relationship with Watkins, which he later admitted when showed photos of them together, according to a copy of the indictment posted online by Fox News. Wolfe told investigators he never revealed classified information.
The indictment claims that on the day Wolfe received classified information about Page, he and Watkins exchanged 82 text messages, and he contacted her shortly after her story was published.
The indictment relates a December 2017 message from Wolfe to a journalist believed to be Watkins.
“I’ve watched your career take off even before you ever had a career in journalism. … I always tried to give you as much Information (sic) that I could and to do the right thing with it so you could get that scoop before anyone else. … I always enjoyed the way that you would pursue a story, like nobody else was doing in my hal1way (sic). I felt like I was part of your excitement and was always very supportive of your career and the tenacity that you exhibited to chase down a good story,” the message read.
The indictment said Wolfe also surreptitiously contacted other reporters.
The Justice Department announced the indictment as part of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ efforts to plug leaks in Washington.
“The attorney general has stated that investigations and prosecutions of unauthorized disclosure of controlled information are a priority of the Department of Justice,” said John Demers of the Justice Department.
The Times reported that Watkins told editors at BuzzFeed News and Politico about her relationship with Wolfe, and that she covered the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee even after that relationship was disclosed.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, issued a statement on the matter on Thursday, CNN reported.
“While the charges do not appear to include anything related to the mishandling of classified information, the Committee takes this matter extremely seriously. We were made aware of the investigation late last year, and have fully cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice since then,” the statement said.
“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. However, we trust the justice system to act appropriately and ensure due process as this case unfolds. This will in no way interfere with our ongoing investigation, and the Committee remains committed to carrying out our important work on behalf of the American people.”
Burr said the panel is “troubled” by the charges and is taking the matter “extremely seriously.”
The statement also noted that senators have known about the probe for some time
“We were made aware of the investigation late last year, and have fully cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice since then,” the statement said, according to CBS News.
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