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Ex-US Senate Intel Committee Staffer Arrested for Lying to Federal Bureau of Investigation

Ex-US Senate Intel Committee Staffer Arrested for Lying to Federal Bureau of Investigation

The former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee made an initial court appearance Friday after his indictment on accusations that he lied to federal investigators investigating a leak of information about a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump.

Federal prosecutors said Thursday that James A. Wolfe, of Ellicott City, Maryland, has been arrested and indicted on three counts of false statements. Wolfe told investigators that he had a "personal relationship" with the reporter but insisted that he did not provide classified information that was featured in the reporter's story, according to the indictment. Wolfe must appear at 9 a.m. Monday at the FBI's D.C. field office for processing and appear for a second preliminary hearing at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Robin M. Meriweather in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where he has been indicted.

Ali Watkins, the New York Times reporter who was intimately involved with Wolfe, had her phone and email records seized by the government.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said a year ago that the DOJ was aggressively pursuing around three timx as many leak investigations as were open at the end of Obama's second term - while Obama's DOJ prosecuted more leaks than all previous administrations combined. In a statement to the newspaper, her personal lawyer, Mark MacDougall, called it "disconcerting" that the Justice Department had obtained a journalist's telephone records.

This is the first known instance of prosecutors seizing reporters' data under the Trump administration.

Wolfe, who was head of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee for three decades, was responsible for protecting sensitive information shared with lawmakers on the committee. Wolfe said that he did not. "That should be a grave concern to anyone who cares about an informed citizenry". "On or about that same date, both before and after the online news article was published, WOLFE and REPORTER #2 exchanged approximately 124 electronic communications".

The media coverage is, predictably, very concerned that the Justice Department secretly collected records of Watkins' communications. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents approached Watkins about her relationship with Wolfe while investigating unauthorized leaks - the first known instance of the Justice Department seizing a reporter's data under President Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that the Justice Department may change some of those rules, which some prosecutors say have hindered investigations. "We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited".

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The indictment alleges Mr. Wolfe leaked to other reporters.

BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith described the seizure in stark terms as "what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter's constitutional right to gather information about her own government". While the info obtained may have been necessary to prove Wolfe lied to investigators, it does seem like a serious breach first amendment boundaries for nothing but vanilla "lied to the feds" charges.

He allegedly revealed, on multiple occasions, classified information about the committee's investigation into allegations of collusion between members of President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and Russian interests seeking to influence the USA election.

In the same statement Thursday, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said, "The Attorney General has stated that investigations and prosecutions of unauthorized disclosure of controlled information are a priority of the Department of Justice".

Watkins wrote an article a year ago, for example, revealing that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in 2013.

The New York Times said in a statement last night that communications between journalists and their sources need to be protected, that that's part of a free press. We also know that much of the leaked information centered on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

The indictment does not identify the reporters.