Ex-US Senate staffer pleads guilty to lying about contact with reporters

James Wolfe, a former senior staffer on the US Senate Intelligence Committee, pleaded guilty to a charge that he lied to the FBI about contacts with reporters, the Justice Department said on Monday.
Wolfe pleaded guilty in a federal court in Washington, D.C., to one count of lying, the Justice Department said, adding that two remaining counts of making false statements would be dismissed when Wolfe is sentenced.
Wolfe, 57, was indicted earlier this year after prosecutors said he had lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by claiming he had not been in contact with any reporter and did not disclose any information to journalists that he had learned while working for the committee.
Wolfe was not accused of leaking classified materials. However, in pleading guilty, he acknowledged that he shared non-public information with a reporter using the encrypted application Signal about a witness who had been subpoenaed to appear before the committee. He also admitted to lying about his exchanges with other reporters as well.
The case against Wolfe centered particularly on his exchange with a reporter who later published an article in April 2017 describing how former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had been in contact with a Russian intelligence operative in 2013.
Such an article as described in the court records was published on the BuzzFeed website under the byline of Ali Watkins, now a New York Times reporter.
The newspaper later reported that investigators had secretly seized Watkins’ telephone and email records as part of their probe.
“We emphasize again today that Jim was never charged with having compromised classified information, nor is such a charge part of today’s plea,” Wolfe’s legal team from the law firm Buckley Sandler LLP said in a statement. "Jim 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.”
The Times had previously said that Watkins had a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe. Both Wolfe and Watkins have denied that Wolfe leaked information to her.
In July, the Times said that Watkins had been transferred out of the newspaper's Washington, D.C., bureau and reassigned to a new beat in New York.
Calls to a lawyer for Watkins and to the New York Times seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Lying to the FBI carries a prison sentence of up to five years. However, under US sentencing guidelines, defendants typically receive far less severe punishments, particularly if they do not have a criminal record.
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