WASHINGTON – A former employee of the Senate intelligence committee appeared before a federal court in Maryland on Friday after being arrested for lying to the FBI about contacts with multiple reporters.
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 Thursday evening 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 is also accused of maintaining a years-long personal relationship with one reporter, which prosecutors say he lied about until being confronted with a photograph of him and the journalist.
On Friday morning, President Donald Trump said the Justice Department had caught “a very important leaker” and said it could be a “terrific thing.” He said he was still getting details on the case.
“I'm a big, big believer in freedom of the press,” Trump told reporters before departing for a trip to Canada. “But I'm also a believer in classified information. Has to remain classified.”
Wolfe's indictment was announced soon after the New York Times revealed that the Justice Department had secretly seized the phone records and emails of one of its journalists, Ali Watkins, as part of the leak investigation involving Wolfe.
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 he denied having relationships with journalists or discussing committee business with them.
The prosecution comes amid a Trump administration crackdown on leaks of classified information. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have decried such disclosures, with Sessions saying in August that the number of leaks of criminal leak probes had more than tripled in the early months of the Trump administration.
The Obama administration had its own repeated tangles with journalists, including secretly subpoenaing phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors during a 2012 leak investigation into a story about a bomb plot.
The Justice Department amended its media guidelines in 2015 to make it more onerous for prosecutors to subpoena journalists for their sources, though officials in the past year have said they are reviewing those policies.