Thursday evening, The
New York Times reported that the telephone
and electronic communications of one of its reporters were seized
by the Justice Department in February as part of the
investigation. The reporter, Ali Watkins, declined to comment.
Times said F.B.I. agents approached Watkins about a previous
three-year romantic relationship she had with Wolfe, asserting
that Wolfe had helped her with articles while they were dating.
But Watkins told the Times that Wolfe was not a source of
classified information for her.
Times said in a statement that the action 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 a much needed light on government
Wolfe is charged with improperly handling sensitive committee
material represents a major breach; the security director is the
person entrusted to administer the strict confidentiality
procedures for all member offices and committee staffers. The
Senate Intelligence Committee, like its House counterpart, has
been largely consumed for the past 18 months with an investigation
into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Wolfe’s alleged conduct is a betrayal of the extraordinary public
trust that had been placed in him,” said Jessie K. Liu, U.S.
attorney for the District of Columbia. “It is hoped that these
charges will be a warning to those who might lie to law
enforcement to the detriment of the United States.”
his tenure, Wolfe escorted every witness who testified before the
committee in connection with the Russia probe.
by NBC News on Wednesday night about the unusual Senate vote,
Wolfe denied that it involved any potential wrongdoing by him and
that he had been contacted by federal law enforcement officials.
Reached again Thursday night, Wolfe declined to comment.
least one case in which Wolfe is alleged to have improperly shared
non-public information involved the Russia probe. According to the
indictment, a classified document was provided to the Senate
committee in March 2017 that involved an individual identified as
“Male 1.” Wolfe “received, maintained and managed” the document on
behalf of the committee.
night, Wolfe is alleged to have exchanged 82 text messages with a
reporter and also spoken to her by phone. On or about April 3, an
article was published under that reporter’s byline revealing the
identity of Male 1. (It is not clear if the information that
authorities say was leaked from the classified document was itself
was a reporter for BuzzFeed at that time. An April 3 article
with her byline revealed that former Trump
campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page “met with and passed
documents to a Russian intelligence operative” in 2013.
rules explicitly state that no senator or committee staff member
“shall disclose, in whole or in part or by way of summary, the
contents of any classified or committee sensitive papers,
materials, briefings, testimony, or other information received by,
or in the possession of, the committee to any other person,”
except as authorized by the committee. Sharing such materials with
executive branch officials or members of the House Intelligence
Committee is allowed but only under limited circumstances.
found in violation of the committee rules could be referred to the
Senate Ethics Committee. Wolfe was placed on leave December 15,
2017, the day he was interviewed by the FBI. His access to
committee spaces and all materials were immediately revoked, a
source familiar with the matter told NBC News. Wolfe was already
set to retire in early 2018.
advocacy groups have accused the government of overstepping the
First Amendment in its targeting of journalists in leak
investigations, a campaign that began during the Obama
leak investigations — whether they directly target reporters or
not — are a grave threat to press freedom. Whistleblowers are the
lifeblood of reporting, and the Trump administration is directly
attacking journalists’ rights by bringing these cases, " the
Freedom of the Press Foundation said in a statement.
Donald Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, disclosed
in August that the Justice Department had
tripled the number of criminal leak investigations, signaling that
federal investigators are expanding the previous administration's
[Ali Watkins] is having her private records scrutinized and spied
on by the government for doing her job as a journalist, and the
Justice Department’s move should be loudly condemned by everyone
no matter your political preference," the Foundation said.