Ex-Senate Intel staffer pleads guilty to lying to feds over contacts with journalists

Ex-Senate Intel staffer pleads guilty to lying to feds over contacts with journalists
© Greg Nash

Former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe on Monday pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI about his communication with journalists.

Wolfe earlier this year was indicted on three counts of making false statements to the federal agents when they questioned him about his contacts with journalists, according to a release from the Department of Justice.

Judge Ketanji B. Jackson in court asked Wolfe, "Did you make a false statement to the FBI?" 

"I did, your honor," Wolfe replied, according to CNN.

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Wolfe was arrested in June for lying about his communication with three reporters, including The New York Times's Ali Watkins, with whom he allegedly had a years-long romantic relationship.

The government seized Watkins's phone and email records while investigating Wolfe, setting off a controversy about whether the federal government can subpoena journalists in order to identify their sources.

Wolfe served as director of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which gave him access to classified documents. The Department of Justice has accused him of leaking confidential information to reporters.

He pleaded not guilty to the federal charges of lying to the FBI in June. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE over the summer openly supported Wolfe's arrest, saying, "I'm a very big believer in freedom of the press, but I'm also a believer that you cannot leak classified information."

Wolfe oversaw some of the committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to NBC News

Wolfe's attorneys in June said they would "vigorously defend Wolfe against this unfair and unjustified prosecution" and seek a gag order to bar government officials, including the president, from making "prejudicial statements" about the case. 

Free speech advocates urgently criticized the Justice Department's seizure of Watkins's documents, accusing the Trump administration of unfairly targeting journalists. 

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLisa Page sues DOJ, FBI over alleged privacy violations Sessions leads GOP Senate primary field in Alabama, internal poll shows Trump rebukes FBI chief Wray over inspector general's Russia inquiry MORE at the time said it was part of the department's crackdown on leakers

-Updated 3:40 p.m.