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Ex-staff member of Senate Intelligence Committee arrested for lying to FBI in leak investigation

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WASHINGTON  — A longtime U.S. Senate staffer was arrested late Thursday on charges of lying to federal agents as part of an investigation related to unauthorized disclosure of information, according to a federal indictment.

Federal prosecutors accuse James Wolfe, the former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, of lying to FBI agents in December 2017 about his contacts with three reporters, including through his use of encrypted messaging applications. According to the indictment, Wolfe made false statements to the FBI about providing two reporters with non-public information related to the matters occurring before the committee.

The identity of the committee aide had been previously undisclosed until late Wednesday, but the Senate had quietly passed a resolution Wednesday evening authorizing lawmakers to provide the Justice Department with documents in connection to the investigation.

Wolfe worked under leadership of both parties since 1987, before he abruptly departed the panel at the end of 2017.

The New York Times reported Wednesday evening that one of its reporters, Ali Watkins, had been contacted by federal investigators about the inquiry into Wolfe and a prosecutor notified her that her email and phone records — but not the content of her communications — were obtained.

In response to an inquiry from CNN, her lawyer Mark J. MacDougall said, “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.”

“Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges,” MacDougall added.

The newspaper says it learned of the Justice Department letter Thursday, and the records covered several years before Watkins joined The Times in late 2017.

It says the FBI had asked Watkins about a previous relationship with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s former director of security, James A. Wolfe, but Watkins did not answer their questions. The agents said they were investigating unauthorized leaks.

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