The former senior Senate Intelligence committee staffer charged with lying to federal investigators about leaks pleaded not guilty in front of a federal magistrate judge in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.
James Wolfe, who was the director of security for the committee, allegedly lied to FBI agents who asked him in December whether he had been in contact with reporters covering Senate Intel activities and whether he had provided them any committee-related information, according to an indictment unveiled by the Justice Department last week.
One of the reporters referenced in the indictment but not explicitly named was Ali Watkins, who was informed early this year that the Justice Department had seized her phone and email records, causing alarm from freedom of the press advocates.
She and Wolfe were reportedly engaged in a romantic relationship that lasted three years. Wolfe was in contact with other reporters covering the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to the indictment.
The stories alluded to in the indictment were about Senate Intel’s Russia probe, and specifically its investigation into ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Wolfe is being represented by Preston Burton and Benjamin B. Klubes, two DC-based attorneys with the firm Buckley Sandler LLP. Klubes, in brief remarks to the media after the hearing, promised that the attorneys would “vigorously defend” Wolfe against this “unfair, unjustified prosecution.”
The attorneys did not take any questions after the hearing, but handed out a press release from their firm echoing Klubes’ remarks.
Statement from Jim Wolfe’s attorneys after he enters not guilty plea pic.twitter.com/j4C7vKeVST
— Tierney Sneed (@Tierney_Megan) June 13, 2018
“This prosecution raises very substantial First Amendment and freedom of the press issues that will be address in court,” the firm said in the press release.
Both during the hearing and in their remarks to the press, the attorneys stressed that Wolfe was not being charges with leaking classified information.
They indicated that they planned to seek a gag order in the case.
Burton, during the hearing, alleged that public statements made by the Justice Department created “atmospherics” suggesting that Wolfe compromised classified information. He also brought up “political remarks” by President Trump “prejudging” the former Senate staffer.
The order the attorneys said they will propose will prohibit “the government at all levels, including President Trump, from making improper and prejudicial statements regarding this case,” according to the press release.
Wolfe was arrested Thursday, appeared in a federal court in Maryland Friday, and turned himself in to the FBI field office in D.C. for booking on Monday. As a condition of his release, any domestic travel outside Washington, Maryland or Northern Virginia requires the notification of pretrial services. Travel outside the U.S. requires court approval.
Wolfe also is required to alert the government if he seeks a job that deals with classified information.
The next hearing in the case is Tuesday, June 19, in front of U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.