WASHINGTON ― A former Senate intelligence committee aide pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of making false statements to the FBI, the latest development in a leak investigation that inspired an outcry over the government’s intrusion into a reporter’s records.
A judge in Washington, D.C., allowed the former aide, James A. Wolfe, to remain free during the legal proceedings but ordered him not to travel outside the country and not to leave the D.C. area without the court’s approval. Wolfe is also barred from possessing a firearm or living in a home where guns are present.
Federal authorities arrested Wolfe, 58, on June 7 in connection to an ongoing investigation of leaks of classified government information. Press advocates became outraged shortly after when the New York Times revealed that the federal government had secretly accessed a Times reporter’s email and phone records as part of the investigation into Wolfe. The reporter, Ali Watkins, was a HuffPost reporter in 2014 and 2015.
Wolfe and Watkins had a three-year relationship that began in 2014. She has told the Times that Wolfe did not provide her with information for stories while they were together.
On Wednesday, a lawyer with the Buckley Sandler law firm working for Wolfe stressed to reporters that Wolfe is not being charged with leaking classified information to Watkins or any other reporter.
“Wolfe served as a dedicated public servant for 35 years,” said his lawyer Preston Burton, who entered Wolfe’s not guilty plea on his behalf. “He was entrusted with the government’s most important classified secrets while working as the director of security for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for almost 30 years. Mr. Wolfe never breached that trust.”
According to federal authorities, Wolfe’s alleged false statements concerned whether he had contact with reporters.
Speaking to reporters last week, President Donald Trump seemed to support the FBI arrest of Wolfe, accusing him of being “a very important leaker.”
The case is the first instance under Trump of the federal government seizing a reporter’s personal data, one of many aggressive tactics authorities honed under President Barack Obama. The Obama administration drew scorn from news organizations for bringing more leak-related prosecutions than all previous administrations combined.
At a website for Wolfe’s legal defense fund, Wolfe’s attorney portrayed him as being on the frontlines against government overreach: “Jim is battling the full weight of the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice in this unwarranted and unfair prosecution.”
Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said James Wolfe’s lawyer was Buckley Sandler. The name of the lawyer is Preston Burton, the firm is Buckley Sandler.