Former Senate staffer indicted in Justice Department leak probe

Jun 11, 2018, 08:21
Former Senate staffer indicted in Justice Department leak probe

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation indictment, Wolfe, a former security director for the Senate intelligence committee who retired earlier this year, "engaged in extensive contact with multiple reporters" and often used anonymous messaging services like Signal and WhatsApp.

Wolfe, who is from Ellicott City, Md., was expected to appear in court on Friday, prosecutors said, but the AP says it was not immediately clear if he has retained a lawyer.

The indictment read that Wolfe denied he was a source for multiple articles containing contained classified information provided by the executive branch to the committee. U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson released him from custody and ordered him to appear at the federal courthouse in Washington next week.

A federal prosecutor notified Watkins on February 13 that the DOJ had obtained information on her Google email accounts and Verizon phone, the Times reported.

The Justice Department announced late Thursday that Wolfe has been indicted for allegedly lying to federal authorities about his relationships with three reporters. The newspaper confirmed on Thursday that Watkins previously had a 3-year-long romantic relationship with Wolfe. But remember; the Obama administration was very tough on leaks, took a very hard line, and it obtained telephone records of Associated Press reporters back in a 2013 leak investigation.

The seizures would mark the first time that the Justice Department under Trump is known to have authorized prosecutors to obtain a reporter's records as part of a leak investigation. Wolfe was the committee's security director. Wolfe cautioned the reporter to "never use [his] name" to any colleagues, the indictment said.

But what happened under Obama set an ominous tone for reporters who were trying to do their jobs of informing the public. They do have the content of the communications on Wolfe's side, showing him sending positive messages to journalists about their reporting on Page.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in August that the Justice Department was "reviewing our policies affecting media subpoenas". BuzzFeed News editor in chief Ben Smith told the Times that the site was "troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter's constitutional right to gather information about her own government". "We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited". He denied then being in contact with reporters, but, according to the indictment, he had communicated extensively with four reporters in part by using encrypted phone apps.

A congressional source said the Senate panel was not aware that the Justice Department had seized a reporter's records when it passed a resolution Wednesday to provide DOJ with documents tied to the investigation. 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. The seizure suggested that prosecutors under the Trump administration will continue the aggressive tactics employed under President Barack Obama. She broke that news in a Buzz Feed article 14 months ago.

Wolfe had extensive contact with reporters about 'MALE-1, ' who was reportedly identified as Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser. "We were made aware of the investigation late past year, and have fully cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice since then".

It's clear from the context of the indictment that Watkins was the author of one story the FBI was investigating to determine who served as her source or sources. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the New York Times, was quoted in the newspaper saying: "Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection".

She added that the Justice Department's actions "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 actions".

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