By Joe Tacopino
Ali WatkinsPhiladelphia Inquirer
The New York Times said Tuesday it is investigating a reporter whose information was seized amid a federal investigation of a Senate aide accused of leaking classified information.
The Times said the paper was evaluating Ali Watkins’ involvement in the case of former Senate Intelligence Committee aide James A. Wolfe, who was charged last week with making false statements to the FBI.
Watkins, 26, had her emails and phone records seized by the Justice Department as part of the investigation into the leak.
Watkins and Wolf, 57, were in a relationship. Both claimed Wolf was not a source for Watkins’ stories during her previous work at both BuzzFeed and Politico.
Although Watkins disclosed her relationship to the Times, her role in the case is under scrutiny after the indictment detailed the extensive communications she had with Wolf.
The two communicated many times both before and after the publishing of a consequential story about Carter Page.
Wolf ultimately was charged with lying to investigators about the contacts he had with reporters.
By Joe Tacopino
James A. Wolfe - Getty Images
A former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer has been indicted on charges of lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters, the Justice Department announced Thursday night — as it emerged that e-mails and phone records of a journalist with whom he had a personal relationship were seized amid the probe.
James A. Wolfe — the director of security for the committee for 29 years until his abrupt departure at the end of 2017 — was indicted on three counts, including for allegedly making false statements to the FBI about providing reporters with sensitive information on matters before the committee. He allegedly even used encrypted-messaging applications to do so.
Wolfe is not charged, though, with disclosing classified information.
The indictment details text messages apparently sent between Wolfe and reporter Ali Watkins before the publication of her 2017 BuzzFeed story about former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page’s contacts with Russians.
Watkins, who also worked for Politico, is now a reporter for The New York Times, which said she had a romantic relationship for three years with Wolfe, 57, that prompted the FBI to contact her.
Wolfe, a career Senate staffer who began in 1987, claims he was not a source of information for Watkins. The Times, too, said the reporter did not use him as a source.
Among his duties as the committee’s security chief as the Russia investigation gained steam was escorting witnesses — including Jared Kushner — when they testified before the panel.
He also reportedly was in charge of maintaining 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.
The feds also say he lied about his relationship with Watkins until he was confronted with a photo of him together with her.
Assistant Attorney General John Demers said, “The allegations in this indictment are doubly troubling, as the false statements concern the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and confidential information.”
And Jessie K. Liu, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said, “Mr. Wolfe’s alleged conduct is a betrayal of the extraordinary public trust that had been placed in him.
“It is hoped that these charges will be a warning to those who might lie to law enforcement to the detriment of the United States.”
In a joint statement, Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said, “While the charges do not appear to include anything related to the mishandling of classified information, the committee takes this matter extremely seriously.
“We were made aware of the investigation late last year, and have fully cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice since then.”
The Times said that the case marks “the first known instance of the Justice Department going after a reporter’s data under President Trump.”