President Donald Trump said on Friday that the former Senate aide indicted on Thursday by a federal prosecutor in Washington was “a very important leaker.”
James Wolfe, the director of security for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for over 30 years, was charged with three counts of making false statements to investigators about his contacts with four reporters.
Trump did not specify why Wolfe’s indictment in the leak case is “very important,” but details in the indictment reveal that the former head of security allegedly leaked information from a secret government document that resulted in the publication of an article revealing the identity and activities of former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.
The indictment is significant because it exposes the extensive ties between unelected career officials and members of the media in Washington. Wolfe maintained a romantic relationship with one of the reporters and exchanged tens of thousands of messages with her. The reporter is Ali Watkins, who currently works for The New York Times.
Elements within the government have long been suspected in engaging in selective leaks, including classified information, to the media in an effort to control the news narrative. The alleged leak described in the indictment came at a time when news outlets in collaboration with officials were actively pushing the unsubstantiated narrative that President Donald Trump colluded with Russia.
“It’s very interesting that they caught a leaker,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “It’s a very important leaker.”
“I’m a big believer in the freedom of the press … but I’m also a believer in classified information,” the president added. “And that includes Comey and his band of thieves who leak classified information all over the place.”
Though the indictment describes several instances of alleged leaking, Wolfe is not being accused of improperly disclosing classified information.
According to the indictment, FBI agents questioned Wolfe on Dec. 15, 2017, about his contacts with reporters. The agents provided him with a printed questionnaire which he filled out while also giving verbal answers.
Wolfe told the agents that he did not have professional, official, or personal relationships with any reporters. When the FBI agents showed him a photo with a female reporter identified in the indictment as REPORTER #2, he admitted that he lied but added that he did not provide the reporter any classified information.
Based on the information in the indictment, REPORTER #2 is Watkins.
After admitting that he lied, Wolfe said that he did not have contact with any other reporters, but the indictment alleges he was in contact with three other reporters.
Wolfe’s relationship with Watkins began when she was a college undergraduate and he was over 50 years old. The pair communicated on an often daily basis over the course of nearly four years. They also met in person at a variety of locations including stairwells in the Hart Senate Office Building, restaurants, and Watkins’s apartment.
On March 17, 2017, Wolfe received and managed a document from the executive branch that contained secret and top-secret information, including secret information about the identity and activities of an individual identified only as MALE-1, the indictment states.
Though MALE-1 and Watkins are not identified in the indictment, the document states that a news outlet published an article on April 3, 2017, which revealed the identity of MALE-1. That article was published with Watkins’s byline by BuzzFeed News with the headline A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy.
The article alleges that Page, the former Trump campaign volunteer, met with a Russian spy in New York City in 2013.
At the time of the article’s publication in April 2017, the reporting reinforced the narrative of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. That narrative has since been debunked by Congressional investigators, who instead found no evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign, yet discovered that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for an unverified anti-Trump dossier compiled using information from sources with Kremlin ties. The FBI then used the dossier to secure a warrant to spy on Page.
Wolfe and Watkins exchanged 82 messages on the day that Wolfe received the top-secret document on Page, the indictment states. The couple also spoke for 28 minutes the same evening. After Watkins’ article was published, the couple exchanged another 124 messages and had a 7-minute call.
The details about the communications were gathered by investigators from communications records seized by the Justice Department. The department informed Watkins that her records were seized in February, according to her employer, the New York Times. The Times did not learn of the letter from the department until Thursday.
On Oct. 16, 2017, Wolfe told another reporter, identified as REPORTER #3, that he had served Page with a subpoena to testify before the intelligence committee, the prosecutors say. The next day, Wolfe gave the reporter Page’s contact information. Later that day, a news organization published an article with the reporter’s byline revealing that Page received a subpoena.
“Good job!” Wolfe wrote to the reporter. “I’m glad you got the scoop.”