Wolfe, a former security director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) was indicted and arrested late Thursday for allegedly lying to the FBI as part of an investigation related to the leak of classified information in December a year ago. He faces three counts of false statements to a government agency, charges that could mean up to 15 years in federal prison, if he is found guilty.
The Post suggests that Watkins' relationship with Wolfe may have created conflicts of interest, particularly when she worked at McClatchy, because she reportedly didn't inform the outlet of the relationship. Wolfe must appear at 9 a.m. Monday at the FBI's D.C. field office for processing and appear for a second preliminary hearing at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Robin M. Meriweather in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where he has been indicted.
Prosecutors obtained the records from telecommunications companies- including Google and Verizon- as part of a leak-related investigation, according to the New York Times. The senators said they were informed of the investigation late-last year and that the committee has been cooperating with the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Wolfe's indictment references an admission to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents past year that he had falsely denied being in a relationship since 2014 with an unnamed reporter. The Times said that Watkins had a relationship with Wolfe before she joined the newspaper. The rules require government investigators to have "made all reasonable attempts to obtain the information from alternative, non-media sources" before they may go after reporters' records.
President Donald Trump's administration excels at muddying the water, and the arrest of a former Senate aide, following an inquiry in which federal agents seized records from a New York Times reporter, might be its best work yet.
The media coverage is, predictably, very concerned that the Justice Department secretly collected records of Watkins' communications.
President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have made cracking down on leaks and leakers a major priority. Last May, he told Russian officials about a classified ISIS plot which Israeli intelligence had shared with the US. He denied then being in contact with reporters, but, according to the indictment, he had communicated extensively with four reporters in part by using encrypted phone apps. "We fear it could be an opening salvo in an ongoing battle over reporters' ability to protect their sources".
Earlier Friday, Trump said that he is "a big, big believer in freedom of the press", but added that he is also "a believer in classified information - has to remain classified". "WOLFE also stated that he never provided REPORTER #2 with news leads, intelligence, or information about non-public SSCI matters".
Federal prosecutors obtained reporters' records in several cases under President Barack Obama, but the Justice Department in Obama's second term adopted rules created to shield reporters in many circumstances.
Watkins has covered a number of high-profile national security stories during the Trump administration, including former Trump advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos' communications with Russians during and before the Trump campaign.
Yet this particular reporter-source relationship was also a romantic one, a twist that introduces questions about journalism ethics and could buttress Trump's characterization of reporters as creatures of the Washington swamp who will do anything for scoops. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the New York Times, was quoted in the newspaper saying: "Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection".