WASHINGTON (AP) — A former employee of the Senate intelligence committee has been arrested on charges of lying to the FBI about contacts he had with multiple reporters, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
James A. Wolfe, the longtime director of security for the committee — one of multiple congressional panels investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign — was indicted on three false statement counts after prosecutors say he misled agents about his relationships with reporters.
Though Wolfe is not charged with disclosing classified information, prosecutors say he was in regular contact with multiple journalists who covered the committee, including meeting them at restaurants, in bars, private residences and in a Senate office building. He also maintained a yearslong personal relationship with one reporter, which prosecutors say he lied about until being confronted with a photograph of him and the journalist.
Wolfe, of Ellicott City, Maryland, is due in court Friday. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had a lawyer.
Each false statement count is punishable by up to five years in prison, though if convicted, Wolfe would almost certainly face only a fraction of that time.
The criminal case arises from a December 2017 FBI interview with Wolfe in which prosecutors say he was shown a news article that contained classified information and was authored by three journalists. He checked “no” in a written questionnaire when asked if he had any contact with the reporters, even though records obtained by the government show he had been in regular contact with them — including through encrypted messaging platforms.
The indictment was announced soon after The New York Times revealed that the Justice Department had secretly seized the phone records of one of its journalists, Ali Watkins, as part of the same leak investigation.
In a statement Thursday, Watkins’ attorney, Marc 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.”
The prosecution comes amid a Trump administration crackdown on leaks of classified information. President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have decried such disclosures, with Sessions saying in August that the number of leak of criminal leak probes had more than tripled in the early months of the Trump administration.
“The Attorney General has stated that investigations and prosecutions of unauthorized disclosure of controlled information are a priority of the Department of Justice. The allegations in this indictment are doubly troubling as the false statements concern the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and confidential information,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security office, said in a statement.