Former U.S. Senate security director pleads leads guilty to lying to FBI

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(CBS News)- The former Director of Security of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence pled guilty on Monday to one count of lying to the FBI about providing confidential information to reporters.

James A. Wolfe, 57, was originally indicted in June on three counts of making false statements to the FBI. As part of his plea agreement the government has agreed to dismiss the two other charges against him. He was not expected to enter a plea in D.C. federal court on Monday, since his court appearance was scheduled to be a status hearing. The plea agreement also came as a surprise as his lawyers had previously stated they would “vigorously defend” the former senate employee. 

Wolfe’s job gave him access to classified information involving the Senate’s intelligence committee, where he worked as director of security for 28 years. He was interviewed by the FBI on December 15, 2017 as part of their investigation into leaks of classified information to the media.

During the interview, Wolfe denied any personal or professional relationships and contacts with reporters on both a written questionnaire, which he signed under penalty of perjury, and orally to the agents.

One of the journalists, referred to as “Reporter #2” in the indictment, was later identified as Ali Watkins, a reporter at the New York Times who covered federal law enforcement and was romantically involved with Wolfe for three years between 2014 and 2017, according to the Times. They also reported that Watkins had her phone and email records seized by the Department of Justice in connection to their investigation.

The statement of offense says that Wolfe originally denied any knowledge of who Watkins’ sources had been until agents confronted him with photographs of the two together. He admitted the relationship, “but maintained that he (Wolfe) had never disclosed to Reporter #2 classified national security information or information that he learned as Director of Security for the SSCI that was not otherwise publicly available.”

 

The statement of offense, signed by Wolfe, goes on to say that he had communicated with multiple journalists using his personal phone, his Senate intelligence email, and encrypted apps like Signal. He is not being charged here for his communication with Watkins, but for lying about his contacts with “Reporter #1” and “Reporter #4,” for whom he offered to be an anonymous source for.

Wolfe was never charged with leaking the information but for lying to the FBI about it, something that his lawyers had previously stressed after President Trump accused him of being a “very important leaker.” His lawyers had gone so far as to ask Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for a gag order on government officials, including the president, that would prevent them “from making improper and prejudicial statements regarding this case.” 

Judge Jackson declined the request. 

This plea agreement saves both the prosecution and the defense from having to dispute whether they could subpoena congressional staff and journalists for the trial. That decision could have resulted in a tenuous debate about “shield laws,” also known as reporter’s privilege, which protect journalists from disclosing their sources and methods under the First Amendment. 

Wolfe is scheduled to be sentenced on December 20th and faces a maximum of six months in prison, according to the guidelines.

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