U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson sentenced Jim Wolfe — a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer accused of leaking non-public government information — to two months in prison for lying to the FBI about his contacts with a reporter.
She said that his role as the director of security for the committee warranted a term of incarceration sentence, even as his lawyers and the leaders of the committee itself had lobbied for him to not serve prison time.
“Lying to the FBI is a serious crime, especially when it is committed a by a government official who understands the importance to truthfulness in a national security investigation,” the judge said. She also imposed four months of supervised release and a $7,500 fine.
Judge Jackson Brown rejected the Justice Department’s argument that Wolfe serve two years in prison — a significant departure from the zero-to-six month guideline recommended by the probation office’s pre-sentencing report.
Wolfe was charged in June for lying to the FBI, which was investigating committee-related leaks, about his contacts with reporters. He pleaded guilty to one false statement count in October.
Jocelyn Ballantine, an assistant U.S. attorney in the D.C. U.S. attorneys office, argued that his lies to the FBI were the “culmination” of four years of “duplicitous” conduct, while alluding to an affair Wolfe had with a reporter he was accused of disclosing non-public information to.
Ballantine accused Wolfe of disclosing sensitive government information to “various young female reporters” he “cultivated.”
Wolfe was never charged with leaking classified information and prosecutors conceded they did not have evidence that he did.
Judge Brown Jackson disagreed that the conduct that preceded his false statements to the FBI warranted the upward departure, even if his contacts with reporters were “potentially harmful” and “entirely inappropriate.”
“Having an affair isn’t a crime. Maintaining relationships with reporters is not a crime,” the judge said. However, she also cited his “duplicitous” behavior in weighing whether to impose a term of incarceration.
The leak investigation was prompted by an April 2017 article about government surveillance of former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, who is known as “Male-1” in the court docs. Judge Brown Jackson revealed Thursday that “Male-1” had also filed a brief under seal in the case, but she said she would not consider it in deciding Wolfe’s sentence.
Wolfe’s prosecution attracted additional attention in that, in investigating him, the Justice Department obtained communications of Ali Watkins, a reporter who covered the committee and with whom Wolfe had an extramarital affair. The seizure of Watkins’ records prompted freedom of the press concerns, and it is not clear if the Justice Department has sought other reporters’ communications.
In Wolfe’s remarks in front of the judge before she handed down his sentence, Wolfe tearfully apologized to his wife, his sons, and his former colleagues at the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I’ll spend the rest of my life paying the price for my actions,” he said.