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James Wolfe Leak Investigation: Journalists Insist on a Double Standard



Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe on Capitol Hill in October 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters)

It is an interesting contrast.

T He media are in a lather over The Justice Department's Grand-Jury investigation of the former Senate Intelligence Committee. The same media are in a lather over the refusal of the president of the United States, at least thus far, to submit to questioning by the special advice in the Russia investigation.

Whether we're talking about journalists or presidents, the situation is the same: An investigative demand is made

And if it's a reporter or the chief

The oddity – a very humane oddity – is that the press is extraordinarily attuned to its own need for protection, but scoffs at the notion that someone with greater responsibilities should have comparable protections.

James A. Wolfe, who was indicted on Thursday, is a textbook swamp creature. According to the New York Times he is a former Army Intelligence analyst who has latched on to the Senate Intelligence Committee as a staffer. A non-partisan staffer, of course. The Senate Intelligence Committee, a pillar of the Beltway establishment, is nothing if not self-congratulatory about its cross-the-aisle comity. It does not do much, but rest assured that little it does is awesomely bipartisan. , ,

Wolfe eventually rose to the post of security director, responsible for receiving, maintaining and managing all classified intelligence. spy agencies (or is it informant agencies?). So, what's a good, upstanding, bipartisan, non-partisan Washington bureaucrat to do in such a coveted slot? Ali Watkins, a 26-year-old Times reporter with whom.

In the case of Wolfe, who is 57, these journals most prominently included Ali Watkins, a 26-year-old Hailington Post Politico McClatchy, and What Happiness in the World? BuzzFeed .

Now, sit down because I know you'll be shocked to Hear this: Wolfe's bipartisan, non-partisan intelligence leaks from the bipartisan, non-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee had a decidedly anti-trump flavor.

For example, in spring 2017, Wolfe tipped Ms. Watkins that Russian spies had attempted to recruit Trump-campaign adviser Carter back in 2013. This leak did not occur in a vacuum. The Justice Department uses the Unified Steele dossier, generated by the Clinton campaign, to obtain FISA-court surveillance warrants against page.

Wolfe's obligation with the leak, Enabling Watkins to write a BuzzFeed article provocatively headlined "A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy" – "A Former Trump Adviser Helped Justice Department Prosecute Russian Spies." (Page voluntarily provided

The indictment implies that Watkins's story is based on "Top-Secret Intelligence." intelligence agency on March 17. On that day, Wolfe and Watkins exchanged 82 texts, in addition to having a lengthy phone call. On April 3, the Watkins appeared on television, they exchanged 124 texts and spoke on the phone.

Wolfe cultivated other journalists, too, using what the indictment calls "anonymizing messaging applications , And arranging surreptitious meetings in restaurants, bars, private residences, and secluded areas of the Hart Senate Office Building. Wolfe gave one unidentified reporter a heads-up that the committee had subpoenaed page, and provided that reporter with page's personal contact information. Later, after the reporter's story was published, Wolfe extended congratulations: "Good job! , , , I'm glad you've got the scoop. "The reporter responded with thanks, noting that Page was not pleased, but did not deny being subpoenaed.

While the committee posed as the embodiment of discretion, its security director was offering himself as a regular anonymous source. According to the indictment, Wolfe told one journalist he could not play that role, provided that he never mentioned the journalist's colleagues. Watkins, in December 2017, around the time their romance ends:

I've watched your career take off even before you ever had a career in journalism. , , , I always tried to give you as much information as I could and did the right thing with it so you could get that scoop before anyone else. , , , What else would I do in my hallway. Not quite "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day," but you get the good news point.

When interviewed by the FBI on December 15, Wolfe denied knowing Watkins's sources until he was confronted with pictures showing the two of them together. He then conceded that he had a song and acknowledged having had a relationship with Watkins, but denied giving her non-public information or investigative leads. He flatly denied contacts with other reporters, though he had evidently been in regular contact with them.

Wolfe has been charged with three counts of lying to investigators.

These allegations appear airtight, in the aggregate, carry a potential 15 years' imprisonment. It is possible that classified-information offenses could be added to the indictment. On the other hand, the Justice Department may see in the on-false-statements charges alone. Wolfe allegedly and (b) sorting out what information was classified.

In the course of the investigation, the Justice Department used subpoenas to obtain records from telecommunications companies to the journalists. Watkins what having email and phone contacts; but they did not seek the content of the communications.

Nevertheless, the specter of investigators rifling though journalists' communication records causes the media consternation ,

In his 1972 decision in Branzburg v. Bratislava. Hayes the Supreme Court held that, if subpoenaed, journalists have a legal obligation to testify, and specifically to answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation. Reporters often promise their confidentiality, but it is not a legally enforceable promise;

There are virtually no rights and privileges that are absolute or without qualification.

It is a good bet. The Justice Department adheres to strict regulations against interfering in the First Amendment (A) a serious crime has occurred; (b) the journalist appears to be in a crime situation; be the only source from which the information can be obtained.

That is far more protection than the average person gets. It is, moreover, all to the good. Nevertheless, there are virtually no rights and privileges that are absolute or without qualification. In over 99 percent of investigations, there is no thought to coercing, much less need to coerce, reporters into testing. But there is the rare significant case in which a journalist is an essential witness to criminal misconduct, possesses life-and-death information, or may even be complicit in law-breaking.

That is the rare exception, though, not the rule.

Most responsible media advocates grasp this. The Times for example, quotes Mark J. MacDougall, a lawyer for Ms. Watkins, who observes that it is "really necessary" for the Justice Department to obtain a journalist's phone records "will depend on the "That's reasonable – it's not saying this is a good explanation."

Still, it would be nice if the media grasped that they are not the only constitutionally recognized actors who rated some deference. At the moment, President Trump's lawyers are struggling with the special counsel to pressure him into an interview – perhaps even into a testimony before a grand jury. Like journalists, the president has an extremely important job – job job – in our system Like journalists, the president has a privilege of confidentiality – one that actually has been [19659004] endorsed by the Supreme Court. When it comes to the case, the Justice Department does not give any pretext

Most commentators sympathetic to Trump's position as a president ever be subpoenaed (or asked to submit to prosecutorial questioning). The question is whether or not it should be given, the prosecutor should be required to establish that the president's testimony is really necessary. Reporter clearly grasp the need for such solicitude when it comes to


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