Feds Want Two Years for Senate Staffer Who Lied to FBI

WASHINGTON (CN) – Prosecutors asked a federal judge Tuesday to sentence a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer to two years in prison for lying to federal investigators about his interactions with reporters.

FILE – In this June 13, 2018, file photo, James Wolfe former director of security with the Senate Intelligence Committee leaves the federal courthouse, in Washington. James Wolfe appeared in federal court in Washington on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, and pleaded guilty to a single charge in the three-count indictment against him. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

In a 35-page memo filed Tuesday, prosecutors say even though James Wolfe did not leak classified information while working as the director of security for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), he disrupted “an important government function and endangered national security” by among other things lying about a three-year affair he had with a reporter.

“While the investigation has not uncovered evidence that Wolfe disclosed classified information, he nevertheless repeatedly disclosed non-public, SSCI-sensitive information related to national security investigations,” the memo states. “Notwithstanding, the impact of the defendant’s conduct on national security is concrete. By repeatedly lying to the FBI, the defendant directly interfered with an FBI national security investigation into the disclosure of classified information related to a top secret [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application.”

Wolfe pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about communications he had with journalists while working on the committee. The FBI asked him about his contact with reporters as part of its investigation into leaks coming out of the committee’s inquiry into former Trump adviser Carter Page.

The agency soon learned Wolfe was involved in a relationship with one reporter, later revealed to be Ali Watkins of The New York Times. According to the memo filed Tuesday, Watkins and Wolfe exchanged “tens of thousands” of calls and messages, all while Watkins published articles on the committee’s work.

Wolfe first sat down with FBI investigators in October 2017 and the agency used the meeting to secretly image his cellphone, according to the filing. 

Wolfe later lied about his relationship with Watkins and then insisted he had never been a source for reporters covering the committee. The FBI had information to contradict those claims, including evidence that he provided “non-public unclassified” information from the committee to reporters via an encrypted app and offered to act as a confidential source for another.

The memo says Wolfe continued to lie to the FBI about his contact with reporters even after he lost his security clearance and job with the committee, even though he had no reason to do so.

The document accused Wolfe of “astonishing hypocrisy” as he praised fellow committee staff members for rebuffing reporters’ attempts to gain access to sensitive information even as he leaked to at least four reporters.

In a competing memo filed Tuesday, Wolfe’s attorneys say he should receive only probation with a community service requirement. They argue Wolfe lied about his contacts with reporters in an “understandably human” attempt to conceal his affair with Watkins and keep his job, but note none of his interactions with reporters were illegal.

“Mr. Wolfe has paid and will continue to pay a very heavy price for his conduct,” Wolfe’s memo states. “He lost his job and career, he betrayed his commitment to his wife and family and country and he has been the subject of numerous articles falsely damning him for purportedly betraying his responsibilities regarding classified information.

“His rights and opportunities have also been altered for the rest of his life due to his status as a felon. Those consequences, while very real and very humbling, are separate from the punishment the court must now consider.”

Wolfe’s attorneys also ask U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to consider that he quickly acknowledged both the affair and contacts with reporters, even if he initially lied about them. The sentencing memo comes with a letter signed by Intelligence Committee chairman Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., vice chairman Senator Mark Warner, R-Va., and former committee chair Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who ask that Wolfe be sentenced to probation.

“Like many others, we were surprised and disappointed when we learned of the allegations against Jim as they were totally out of character for someone who we considered a friend and had provided thoughtful support to the committee’s membership and staff for so long,” the senators’ letter states.

Wolfe’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 20.

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