A veteran Senate staffer has been indicted as part of a probe related to the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that has also obtained the records of a New York Times reporter.
James A. Wolfe, the longtime head of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee, was arrested late Thursday, federal prosecutors said. Mr. Wolfe was indicted on charges of “making false statements to special agents of the FBI during the course of an investigation into the unlawful disclosure of classified information,” prosecutors said in a statement late Thursday.
“Wolfe is alleged to have lied to FBI agents in December 2017 about his repeated contacts with three reporters, including through his use of encrypted messaging applications,” prosecutors said. “Wolfe is further alleged to have made false statements to the FBI about providing two reporters with non-public information related to the matters occurring before the [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence].”
Mr. Wolfe didn’t respond to a request for comment. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Wolfe is a 31-year veteran on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is a professional staffer who has served on the committee under chairmen of both parties.
As part of the same probe, investigators have obtained records from reporter Ali Watkins, according to people familiar with the matter. Prosecutors typically avoid such a tactic because of concerns about respecting freedom of the press.
The Senate this week agreed to turn over documents to the Justice Department as part of the investigation in an unusual resolution that passed by unanimous consent on the Senate floor. Under Senate rules, the full body needs to approve any request to turn over its internal documents to the executive branch.
“The Select Committee on Intelligence has received a request from the Department of Justice for records pertinent to a pending investigation arising out of allegations of the unauthorized disclosure of information by a former employee of the Committee,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement entered into the congressional record.
Ms. Watkins is a national security reporter for the New York Times.
She previously worked at BuzzFeed, Politico and McClatchy where she also covered national security—primarily the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill. Her records were seized by prosecutors recently, people familiar with the matter said.
Ms. Watkins had a romantic relationship with Mr. Wolfe while she was covering the Senate Intelligence Committee for BuzzFeed, according to people briefed on the matter. She didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“It’s always disconcerting when a journalist’s telephone records are obtained by the Justice Department—through a grand jury subpoena or other legal process,” Mark MacDougall, an attorney for Ms. Watkins, told the New York Times. “Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges.”
A person familiar with the matter said Ms. Watkins disclosed the relationship when she joined the New York Times. A spokeswoman for the New York Times said the seizure of a reporter’s records undermines media freedom.
“Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and we believe that communications between journalists and their sources demand protection,” said
senior vice president for corporate communications at the paper. “This decision by the Justice Department 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. That should be a grave concern to anyone who cares about an informed citizenry.”
the editor in chief for BuzzFeed, said, “We’re deeply troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter’s constitutional right to gather information about her own government.”
A spokesman for Politico said Ms. Watkins didn’t primarily cover the Senate Intelligence Committee for the publication and it was aware of her relationship with a top staffer on the panel.
None of the publications that employed Ms. Watkins report being subpoenaed for records.
Information gathered by reporters isn’t protected by law, though several reporters have refused to testify about their sources, prompting standoffs with law enforcement. A New York Times reporter was jailed in 2005 for refusing to testify about the leak of a CIA operative’s name.
The government ended a seven-year standoff with another New York Times reporter, James Risen, over attempts to order him to reveal his sources as part of a different leak investigation in 2015.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year promised to tamp down leaks of sensitive government information after President
complained that the leaks jeopardized national security. He also criticized Mr. Sessions as “weak” on the issue.
Mr. Sessions said in August that the Justice Department had more than tripled the number of active leak investigations from the number pending at the end of the Obama administration, which brought more leak cases than all prior administrations combined.
“We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country any longer,” Mr. Sessions said at the time.
Deputy Attorney General
has said the department continues to review its guidelines related to subpoenas of journalists.
—Sadie Gurman contributed to this article.