A veteran Senate Intelligence Committee staffer was arrested Thursday on charges of lying to FBI agents during an investigation into the leak of classified information in which federal authorities also seized emails and phone records belonging to a New York Times reporter.
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. Wolfe told investigators that he had a "personal relationship" with the reporter but insisted that he did not provide classified information that was featured in the reporter's story, according to the indictment.
Wolfe is expected to make his first court appearance Friday.
The seizure of a New York Times reporter's phone and email records has sent a chill down the spine of every reporter concerned about protecting his or her sources.
Wolfe reportedly told Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in 2017 that he lied to them about his relationship with a reporter identified in court papers as "REPORTER #2" after he was shown photos of the two of them together. "We were made aware of the investigation late a year ago, and have fully cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice since then".
Referring to an "explosion" of leaks since President Trump took office, Sessions said the Justice Department has "more than tripled" the number of active leak investigations compared to the number pending at the end of the Obama administration.
The Times reporter, Ali Watkins, declined to comment on the matter.
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A spokesman for Politico, which Watkins joined in May of a year ago and left in December, said she didn't disclose her relationship with Watkins when she was hired.
Watkins has covered a number of high-profile national security stories during the Trump administration, including former Trump advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos' communications with Russians during and before the Trump campaign. He also lied about sharing non-public information with two additional members of the press. Wolfe said that he did not.
And James Risen, then a New York Times reporter, struggled for years to avoid testifying about his confidential source during the leak investigation of Jeffrey Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer.
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. A year and six months later, the reporter joined The Huffington Post to cover national security.
Mr. Wolfe also communicated with a fourth reporter, using his Senate email account, from 2015 to 2017, prosecutors said.
INSKEEP: So what exactly did Wolfe do according to - according to prosecutors? Watkins and Wolfe were once in a romantic relationship.
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". "This should be a grave concern to anyone who cares about an informed citizenry".
Obtaining a reporter's records is considered an "extraordinary" measure that must be approved by top Justice Department officials, according to the guidelines for federal prosecutors.
Now, the reporters aren't identified by name in the indictment.