New York Times reporter to be transferred amid leak case

New York Times reporter to be transferred amid leak case
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The New York Times is reassigning a reporter at the center of a controversial leak investigation whose phone records were seized by federal prosecutors.

Ali Watkins, 26, will be transferred to the newspaper's main office in New York City, where she will be given a new beat and a mentor, the Times reported on Tuesday.

The Times began an internal review of Watkins after it learned of her three-year relationship with James Wolfe, 57, an aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Watkins covered the intelligence beat for the Times and had previously covered it for other news organizations. 

Wolfe was arrested last month as part of a leak investigation. Federal prosecutors also seized Watkins's phone and email records as part of that probe.

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The seizure of the phone records has alarmed many in the media, who see it as an overly aggressive attempt by the Trump administration to intimidate journalists. 

In a memo to Times staff, executive editor Dean Baquet said reporters for the Times have discussed sources clamming up for fear of the aggressive tactics of the Trump administration. He wrote that the Times as an institution abhors "the actions of the government in this case,” which he said were an attempt to interfere with the work of the media.

Baquet also called out President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE, who he noted had referred to the media as the enemy of the people.

The situation has also raised ethical questions for journalists given Watkins's relationship with Wolfe. 

Baquet wrote in his memo that the Times was "troubled by Ali’s conduct, particularly while she was employed by other news organizations." Watkins joined the Times in December.

"For a reporter to have an intimate relationship with someone he or she covers is unacceptable," he wrote.

Baquet said the new beat would give Watkins "a fresh start."

"We hold our journalists and their work to the highest standards," he wrote. "We are giving Ali an opportunity to show that she can live up to them. I believe she can." 

"I also believe that The Times must be a humane place that can allow for second chances when there are mitigating circumstances," he added.

In a statement, Watkins expressed regret that she put "The Times in a difficult position," and acknowledged that she "should have handled aspects of my past relationships and disclosures differently," according to the newspaper.

"I sincerely regret putting The Times in a difficult position and am very grateful for the support I’ve received from my editors and colleagues here," she said. "I also appreciate the review’s conclusion that my reporting has been fact-based and accurate."