Former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James A. Wolfe was arrested Thursday and charged for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning classified information that was leaked to the media.
Wolfe, who was employed as the committee’s security director for three decades, is accused of transferring confidential state intelligence to a number of journalists he came in contact with, including New York Times reporter Ali Watkins.
According to the indictment, Wolfe had denied having any electronic contact with a journalist while being questioned by the FBI in December. When agents confronted him with photos of Watkins and himself, Wolfe revealed they had a personal relationship, but continued to deny the leak of any information.
Now, the FBI allegedly has encrypted text messages that prove Wolfe was lying.
The investigation of Senate Intelligence Committee staffers was prompted by a Buzzfeed article written by Watkins last April which connected Donald Trump’s campaign foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, to Russian espionage and intervention.
The Senate Intelligence panel had received the confirmation of this information only two weeks before the article was published.
On June 7, Watkins was instructed by the Justice Department to immediately relinquish all her phone and email records to the FBI. She has not yet been charged with any illegal attainment of confidential information.
Watkins is currently a National Security reporter at the Times but has worked for several major media outlets in the past year, including Politico and Buzzfeed.
“Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and we believe that communications between journalists and their sources demand protection,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said in response to the seizure of records. “This decision by the Justice Department will endanger reporters ability to promise confidentiality to their sources and, ultimately, undermine the ability of a free press to shine as much needed light on government actions.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee also responded to Wolfe’s indictment in a joint statement, where they expressed their shock and concern.
“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 read.
Wolfe is the third person to have been charged publicly for leaks to the media since Trump took office. He is preceded by National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner and FBI agent Terry Albury.
Watkins was the first journalist to have their records seized by the government under the Trump administration.
The charges against Wolfe could illicit a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, summed by up to five years for each of the three false-statement counts held against him.