New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, whose records were seized by the Justice Department as part of a leak investigation, has been assigned a new beat in New York and given a mentor following an internal review of the document seizure and her conduct, according to the Times.
In a memo to staff on Tuesday, the Times executive editor Dean Baquet called the federal government’s actions abhorrent and told employees Watkins was being given a “fresh start” given the nature of the DOJ’s “intrusion” into her work.
“As we learn more, it is clear that the government leak investigation was an attempt to interfere with the work of journalists by an administration whose leader has called the media ‘the enemy of the people’ and has pledged an unprecedented crackdown on disclosures about government activities, threatening to undermine reporters’ ability to inform the public,” he wrote.
But, he said, the review also shed light on the ethical line between “private and professional life” for a journalist. Watkins hasn’t written for the Times since a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, James Wolfe, was arrested for lying to the FBI about leaking classified information to journalists. Watkins had previously been in a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe while she covered the Senate Intelligence Committee for The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed News and Politico, but said she told editors at the time she wasn’t using Wolfe as a source.
The DOJ told Watkins in February that years worth of her phone and email records had been seized by the FBI, but she did not inform the Times about the seizure until her colleagues reported on Wolfe’s arrest last month. Since she joined the Times, Watkins has been covering law enforcement in Washington, D.C.
“We are troubled by Ali’s conduct, particularly while she was employed by other news organizations,” Baquet said. “For a reporter to have an intimate relationship with someone he or she covers is unacceptable.”
Baquet called Watkins a talented reporter who made some “poor judgements,” but he placed significant blame on her former editors for allowing her to cover the Senate Intelligence Committee after telling them about the relationship. He said the review found that the Times also dropped the ball in its hiring screenings — Watkins’ disclosed the previous relationship to some editors at the time of her hiring, but not all of the newsroom’s leadership was made aware.
Wolfe has plead not guilty to the federal charges.
Read the Times’ full story here.