Former Senate staff member indicted in leak investigation, and New York Times reporter’s email records seized
The former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee was arrested Thursday on charges of lying to federal investigators probing a leak of information involving a former campaign aide to President Trump.
As part of the investigation, federal law enforcement officials seized several years’ worth of email and phone records from a reporter who currently works for the New York Times, the paper reported Thursday.
The reporter, Ali Watkins, had a three-year romantic relationship with the former Senate staff member, James A. Wolfe, 57, the paper reported. The relationship — and the seized records — pre-dated her employment at the New York Times, which hired her late last year.
The seized material does not include the contents of Watkins’ emails, but does include customer records from Verizon and Google covering two email accounts and a phone she used.
The seizures would mark the first known time that the Justice Department under Trump has authorized prosecutors to obtain a reporter’s records as part of a leak investigation.
Trump has complained bitterly and loudly about leaks and has demanded that the Justice Department step up investigations of them.
Federal prosecutors took similar actions to seize reporters’ records in several cases under President Obama, but the Justice Department in Obama’s second term adopted new rules designed to shield reporters in many circumstances. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has said that the Justice Department may change some of those rules, which some prosecutors say have hindered investigations.
In a statement, Watkins’ personal lawyer, Mark J. 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.”
“Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges.”
Wolfe’s three-count indictment was unsealed late Thursday after his arrest. He is accused of making false statements to investigators in an effort to conceal his communications with four reporters. According to the indictment, he communicated extensively with the reporters using encrypted phone apps.
Wolfe was questioned by FBI agents in December, according to the indictment. He retired from the committee staff last month. He is expected to make an initial court appearance on Friday.
The indictment indicates that FBI agents were trying to determine how reporters had learned about contacts between the former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, and Russian intelligence operatives. The contacts were revealed to the Senate committee by law enforcement officials in classified documents, the indictment says.
According to the indictment, a journalist identified as Reporter #2 published an online article on April 3, 2017, revealing the identity of a person the indictment calls “Male 1.”
An article under Watkins’ byline appeared online on the BuzzFeed news site on that date revealing Page’s contact with a Russian intelligence operative.
The indictment does not name Watkins, but the description of Reporter #2’s employment history matches hers.
Wolfe was not a source of classified information for Watkins’ stories, she said, according to the Times. It is unclear whether any of the information Wolfe is suspected of revealing was, itself, classified, although the indictment states that he had access to classified documents.
Watkins began working for the New York Times late last year, covering national security. The seized records cover a period during which she worked at BuzzFeed and Politico. She began her career in Washington in 2013 as an intern for the McClatchy Washington bureau while she was a journalism student at Temple University in Philadelphia.
A prosecutor informed Watkins on Feb. 13 about the seizure, the Times reported. The paper learned of the matter on Thursday, the day after the Intelligence Committee made a terse announcement that it was cooperating with the Justice Department “in a pending investigation.”
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