WASHINGTON — A former veteran Senate Intelligence Committee staffer who vowed to fight an indictment charging he lied to the FBI three times about his contacts with reporters pleaded guilty today to one count.
James A. Wolfe, 57, admitted making a false statement to FBI agents “during the course of an investigation into the unlawful disclosure of classified national security information,” the Justice Department said. Wolfe was the committee’s director of security at the time, and had worked there for 28 years; in his position, he managed classified national security information coming from the executive branch to the committee.
The two other counts are dismissed as a result of the plea agreement. The hearing today was expected to be a status update instead of a guilty plea.
Wolfe’s attorneys said he “has accepted responsibility for his actions and has chosen to resolve this matter now so that he and his family can move forward with their lives,” and noted that he wasn’t charged with disclosing classified information. President Trump once called Wolfe “a very important leaker.”
In April 2017, the FBI opened an investigation into a news article’s unauthorized disclosure of classified national security information, and interviewed Wolfe that December. He retired that month.
Wolfe was reportedly in a romantic relationship with New York Times reporter Ali Watkins. The FBI says he lied to investigators about his relationships with reporters, though the count to which he pleaded guilty didn’t involve Watkins.
“By his guilty plea, Wolfe admitted making false statements to the FBI concerning whether he had provided unclassified, but not otherwise publicly-available, information to reporters,” the Justice Department said. “Specifically, on Oct. 16, 2017, and again on Oct. 24, 2017, Wolfe provided a particular reporter with non-public information concerning a witness who had been subpoenaed to testify before the SSCI. Wolfe also admitted making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with three additional reporters, including one of the authors of the aforementioned article.”
Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 20; Wolfe is expected to receive up to six months in prison.
Watkins’ email and phone records were seized as part of the FBI probe. While reporting on the Senate Intelligence Committee, she wrote for Politico, BuzzFeed, HuffPost and McClatchy; she has asserted that she didn’t use Wolfe as a source.
The New York Times said in June that Watkins told the paper she had ended the relationship with Wolfe, some three decades her senior, four months before the paper hired her. She still writes for the NYT, but does not cover the Intelligence Committee.