Press Groups Criticize the Seizing of a Times Reporter's Records

Adjust Comment Print

Wolfe served as the intelligence committee's director of security for 29 years, which provided him with access to secret and top secret information.

Federal prosecutors said on Thursday that James A Wolfe, 58, had been arrested and indicted on three counts of false statements. Wolfe, 57, worked for the committee for almost three decades under both Republican and Democratic leadership. "But I'm also a believer in classified information".

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in August that the Justice Department was "reviewing our policies affecting media subpoenas". According to reports, Watkins was approached by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to discuss her three-year relationship with Wolfe to determine whether he'd given her any classified Senate documents. The indictment says that Wolfe originally denied knowing Watkins at all. "But confronted with pictures of the two together, he admitted being in a "personal relationship" with her since 2014", according to the Times.

A "BuzzFeed spokesman told The DCNF that the company does not dispute The Times' reporting on Wolfe's indictment, meaning that at least some BuzzFeed editors were aware of Watkins' relationship with the Senate Intelligence aide", writes media reporter Joe Simonson. Burr and Warner added that the Wolfe case will "in no way" interfere with the committee's ongoing probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 USA election.

The indictment also describes an incident in which Wolfe alerted another reporter in October 2017 that he had served Page with a subpoena to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Trump, who has suggested reporters who publish leaks should go to jail, said Friday of Wolfe's arrest that "reporters can't leak". The DOJ indictment said she was an undergraduate student working as an intern when their "personal relationship" formed about that time.

One of those scoops was said to be Watkins' story on April 3, 2017, for Buzzfeed News that revealed the FBI was investigating former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page because a Russian spy attempted to recruit him in 2013.

An article under Watkins' byline appeared online on the BuzzFeed news site on that date revealing Page's contact with a Russian intelligence operative. "These rules protect the public's interest in allowing journalists to report on what's happening inside the government without fear of being investigated". 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". But, according to the Times, Watkins was not informed at the time investigators obtained her records. The Justice Department has not accused Comey of leaking classified information.

"Any time that a journalist's ability to do their job is threatened in a manner such as this, it's a major concern", Politico spokesman Brad Dayspring said, according to the organization.

The Senate by unanimous consent agreed to aid the Justice Department in its leak investigation earlier this week.

It's rare for the government to obtain the communications of reporters as part of a leak investigation, and the seizure of Watkins's records, the first known case under the Trump administration, signals the aggressiveness with which officials are pursuing leaks to the press.

Kurtz said the importance of the case cannot be overstated and could lead to some reporters' sources "drying up".

Wolfe was released from custody Friday after agreeing to relinquish his passport and appear in district court in Washington, DC, on the charges in coming days, along with other conditions put forward by prosecutors and ordered by a federal judge at an initial appearance in Maryland district court Friday. "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", said Assistant Attorney General John.