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Ex-Senate aide appears in federal court after indictment

11 June, 2018, 01:05 | Author: Lucille Rivera
  • Ali Watkins

James Wolfe, who worked for the committee as director of security for about 29 years, allegedly lied to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in December about his contacts with three reporters, U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu said in a statement.

It was also reported on Thursday that, aside from officials zeroing in on Wolfe, the US Justice Department also seized phone and email records belonging to New York Times journalist Ali Watkins as part of their investigation.

Court documents allege that before he stopped working with the committee in December, Wolfe used encrypted messaging applications to contact three reporters, then lied repeatedly about those communications.

What is known today is that in December 2013, the Temple University intern had begun a romantic relationship with James A. Wolfe, a man 30 years her senior.

"That's the reason that as a one-time reporter and as a prosecutor I am sensitive to drawing the line in a way that includes reporting accurately and using leaks when it involves information useful to the public", said Blumenthal. At the same time, the admission of a personal relationship between the reporter and the source raised questions about journalistic ethics.

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. And then late previous year, he said that the Justice Department had 27 leak investigations underway, which was roughly triple the number of the Obama administration.

However, Watkins maintains Wolfe was not a source of classified information during the time of their relationship. In particular, the rules require the government to have "made all reasonable attempts to obtain the information from alternative, non-media sources" before investigators may target a reporter's information.

"Seizing a journalist's records sends a awful message to the public and should never be considered except as the last resort in a truly essential investigation", Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement.

The seizures of the emails and records come after months of demands from Trump that the Justice Department take action against "leakers".

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Ben Smith, the editor of BuzzFeed News, praised Watkins as a reporter.

Wolfe could not be reached for comment after the hearing.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the intelligence committee said they were "troubled to hear of the charges filed against a former member of the committee staff". "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", they said.

There is strong circumstantial evidence that Mr. Wolfe was also the source for a story that said Carter Page, a Trump campaign volunteer, had met with a Russian spy in NY in 2013.

Watkins joined the Times in late 2017 and previously worked for Buzzfeed News and Politico, the newspaper said. He further indicated that he had not had a personal relationship with any of the journalists.

Dayspring added, "Any time that a journalist's ability to do their job is threatened in a manner such as this, it's a major concern".

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

In a statement, Watkins' attorney, Mark J. MacDougall, called the seizure of his client's telephone records "disconcerting". "Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges". As director of security, Wolfe received the document.

The government says that Wolfe provided information that helped Watkins with a scoop about - it turns out to be a story on Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page and about how Russians had tried to recruit him back in 2013.

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