President Donald Trump sits with FBI Director Christopher Wray during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, in Quantico, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Yesterday afternoon, this nebulous entry in the Congressional Record caused some buzz and speculation:
Now the backstory is becoming much more clear:
A former staff employee of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has been indicted and arrested on charges of making false statements to special agents of the FBI during the course of an investigation into the unlawful disclosure of classified information, announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu, and Timothy M. Dunham, Special Agent in Charge of the Counterintelligence Division of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
James A. Wolfe, 58, of Ellicott City, Md., was indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts of violating Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001. At the time he made the alleged false statements to the FBI, Wolfe was Director of Security for the SSCI, a position he held for approximately 29 years. As SSCI Director of Security, Wolfe was entrusted with access to classified SECRET and TOP SECRET information provided by the Executive Branch, including the U.S. Intelligence Community, to the SSCI. In this position, Wolfe was responsible for safeguarding all classified information in the possession of the SSCI.
Wolfe is alleged to have lied to FBI agents in December 2017 about his repeated contacts with three reporters, including through his use of encrypted messaging applications. Wolfe is further alleged to have made false statements to the FBI about providing two reporters with non-public information related to the matters occurring before the SSCI.
This is one article that resulted from the leak: A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy.
A former campaign adviser for Donald Trump met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013.
The adviser, Carter Page, met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant.
A court filing by the US government contains a transcript of a recorded conversation in which Podobnyy speaks with one of the other men busted in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, about trying to recruit someone identified as “Male-1.” BuzzFeed News has confirmed that “Male-1” is Page.
The leak is the identification of Carter Page as “Male-1.”
We don’t know what else Wolfe leaked, but this particular leak is just one of the vindictive leaks that little people specialize in. Revealing Page as the FBI source in a previous investigation really has zero value to anything. Its sole purpose was to link Carter Page to Russia to further the Russia probe narrative and the harm done to Page was immaterial.
This from the affidavit
6. On or about December 15,2017, FBI agents conducted a voluntary, noncustodial interview of WOLFE in the District of Columbia. Prior to questioning, the FBI agents presented WOLFE with a typewritten questionnaire (“the lnvestigative Questionnaire”) which contained blank lines to check indicating “Yes” or “No” answers as well as space to provide any requested explanation. FBI agents read the questions in the Investigative Questionnaire aloud to WOLFE and he answered orally and wrote on the document.
c. During the interview, FBI agents showed WOLFE a copy of a news article authored by three reporters, including REPORTER #1, about an individual (referred to herein as “MALE-l), that contained classified information that had been provided to the SSCI by the Executive Branch for official purposes. d. Question 9 of the lnvestigative Questionnaire asked “Have you had any contact with” any of those three reporters. As to each reporter, WOLFE stated and checked “No.”
e. Question 10 of the Investigative Questionnaire asked, “Besides [the three named reporters], do you currently have or had any contact with any other reporters (professional, official, personal)?” Before answering this question, WOLFE stated orally to the FBI agents that although he had no official or professional contact with reporters, he saw reporters every day, and so to “feel comfortable” he would check “Yes.” He did so, and initialed this answer.
f. Question 10 of the Investigative Questionnaire further asked, “If yes, who and describe the relationship (professional, official, personal).” In the space provided, WOLFE hand wrote “Offcial – No” and “Professional – No.”
Obviously, when the FBI gives you a questionnaire to fill out and the first line reads, “Do you understand that you are being provided this questionnaire as part of a criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI?” nothing good is going to come of participating in the exercise.
Wolfe’s problem was that they knew he’d been in contact, unofficially, with those three reporters. And they knew he was sleeping with the reporter of the Carter Page story–that would be Ali Walker of the New York Times–and that he had been for about three years.
There are two other items of interest in this story. First, the FBI had seized the metadata from Walker’s email and phone accounts going back about five years to her first job working for McClatchy:
Ms. Watkins’s personal 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.”
A prosecutor notified Ms. Watkins on Feb. 13 that the Justice Department had years of customer records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies, including Google and Verizon, for two email accounts and a phone number of hers. Investigators did not obtain the content of the messages themselves.
The records covered years’ worth of Ms. Watkins’s communications before she joined The Times in December 2017 to cover federal law enforcement. During a seven-month period last year for which prosecutors sought additional phone records, she worked for BuzzFeed News and then Politico reporting on national security.
Shortly before she began working at The Times [note: she began working at the NYT in December 2017], Ms. Watkins was approached by the F.B.I. agents, who asserted that Mr. Wolfe had helped her with articles while they were dating. She did not answer their questions. Mr. Wolfe was not a source of classified information for Ms. Watkins during their relationship, she said. That same month, F.B.I. agents asked Mr. Wolfe about an article written by Ms. Watkins. He denied knowing the reporter’s sources.
During the same interview with the F.B.I., Mr. Wolfe denied knowing Ms. Watkins. But confronted with pictures of the two together, he admitted being in a “personal relationship” with her since 2014.
This revelation of the Skanko-Roman wrestling going on behind the scenes
makes some of Walker’s tweets seem, well, charming and a bizarrely deceptive kind of way:
— Patrick Poole (@pspoole) June 8, 2018
Wolfe was a professional staffer, but he got his position when Democrats controlled the Senate and so his politics are a safe bet. But there is another motivation just as powerful here, and I’ll just throw this on the table for what it’s worth in the age of #MeToo, Wolfe is 58. Walker graduated from college in 2014 which means she’s about 26.
The other tangent is that this is a very aggressive FBI reaction to a leak case. It doesn’t compare to the way the Obama administration went after James Risen. They issued a grand jury summons to compel him to reveal sources. Neither does it compare to labeling Fox’s James Rosen an “unindicted co-conspirator” in an espionage case. But still, it is definitely hardball and should serve as a wake-up call to anyone playing the classified leak game. In fact, Risen has a great op-ed titled If Donald Trump Targets Journalists, Thank Obama
If Donald J. Trump decides as president to throw a whistle-blower in jail for trying to talk to a reporter, or gets the F.B.I. to spy on a journalist, he will have one man to thank for bequeathing him such expansive power: Barack Obama.
Mr. Trump made his animus toward the news media clear during the presidential campaign, often expressing his disgust with coverage through Twitter or in diatribes at rallies. So if his campaign is any guide, Mr. Trump seems likely to enthusiastically embrace the aggressive crackdown on journalists and whistle-blowers that is an important yet little understood component of Mr. Obama’s presidential legacy.
Criticism of Mr. Obama’s stance on press freedom, government transparency and secrecy is hotly disputed by the White House, but many journalism groups say the record is clear. Over the past eight years, the administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.
Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records, labeled one journalist an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case for simply doing reporting and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources and testify in criminal cases.
I'm not a fan of DOJ going after reporters, but I'm also not a fan of Congressional staffers and reporters unmasking private citizens who are not accused of wrongdoing.
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) June 8, 2018
And Wolfe’s former colleague is now a Fusion GPS staffer:
MORE: Daniel Jones, who is working w/ Fusion GPS & Steele on "Trump-Russia") was lead author of the CIA torture report.
Ali Watkins was pulitzer finalist for info on CIA torture report.
Was Wolfe coordinating w/ Jones back then?
Is Jones working w/ Wolfe on "Trump-Russia" now?
— Jordan Schachtel (@JordanSchachtel) June 8, 2018
That has led, naturally, to this:
One of the most extreme attacks on press freedom under Obama was when DOJ obtained the phone records of various journalists to find their sources. The Right (and some on the left) went ballistic. Now the Trump DOJ is doing it. What will be their reaction? https://t.co/FiHtnUwOcK
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 8, 2018
On the one hand, I agree. But you know what, these people can just go screw themselves. Those of us who were outraged at the treatment of Risen were told to shut up and go away. That there was nothing there to see. That all this was perfectly legit. If it was then, then it is now. I’m not going to join the people who were dancing the Macarena at the thought of putting Risen in jail because his reporting did not support the Obama-is-God narrative.
They are going to hate when the new rules get applied to them https://t.co/QTvdzYM0hb
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) August 27, 2017
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