Attorneys for a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer who admitted lying to investigators in an FBI leak probe accused federal prosecutors Friday of “scaremongering and sleight of hand” in asking he get a two-year prison term.
The government’s recommendation, attorneys for James A. Wolfe told a court Friday, was a far harsher penalty than what was sought for high-ranking and powerful U.S. officials who committed similar offenses.
Attorneys for the 57-year-old Wolfe took a swipe at the Trump administration in court filings and called “shocking” the sentence request from prosecutors that is at least four times greater than federal sentencing guidelines recommendations for his guilty plea in October. Wolfe admitted to one count of lying about using encrypted messaging in October 2017 to tell a journalist identified in court filings only as “Reporter #3” about a subpoena issued by the Senate committee.
Wolfe, who had spent 30 years on the committee staff, also admitted to lying to investigators about speaking with three other reporters. He is due to be sentenced Dec. 20.
The morning after Wolfe’s June 7 arrest, President Trump announced to reporters that the Justice Department had just “caught a leaker. It’s a very important leaker,” adding, “You cannot leak classified information.”
Wolfe, his lawyers noted, was not charged with leaking classified data, and the government conceded it did not have evidence that he did.
“Mr. Wolfe should not bear the weight of the government’s alternate reality and apparent frustration at its inability to prove any disclosure of Classified Information by the so-called ‘big leaker’ it so publicly trumpeted when Mr. Wolfe was arrested,” wrote his attorneys, Preston Burton, Benjamin B. Klubes and Lauren R. Randell.
“Mr. Wolfe should be sentenced for what he actually did,” they added in their Friday filing, not “based on fear-mongering about encrypted messaging applications or the potential risk associated with media discussions by government employees who happen to have security clearances, regardless of . . . what they actually discussed.”
His attorneys are seeking probation for Wolfe.
The filing, and government objections to the probation request, come amid a continuing crackdown on unauthorized disclosures of national-security-related information to the news media by government whistleblowers and others that escalated under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
Attorneys for Wolfe and other defendants have said government enforcement has been inconsistent, with former senior officials such as ex-CIA director David Petraeus and former national security adviser Sandy Berger receiving sentences of probation for mishandling classified information, while line-level federal agents and employees are hit with years in prison.
In their 25-page filing, Wolfe’s defense noted that prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Monday recommended probation for former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who stepped down and admitted to lying to FBI agents in January 2017 about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador while Flynn was a Trump campaign adviser and transition-team member.
“We see no just principle in the government’s position here,” seeking prison time for Wolfe, the attorneys wrote, while “high ranking defendants (far higher than Mr. Wolfe) who actually compromise Classified Information or secretly pander to our country’s foremost foreign adversary and then lie about it to the government are permitted to resolve their cases with no incarceration.”
In a separate filing, prosecutors with U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District lashed into Wolfe’s request for probation, saying many of his claims about his conduct were “flatly incorrect.”
“Defendant Wolfe’s conduct was not aberrant; rather, it reveals a pattern of behavior in which he used his position as Director of Security for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in order to cultivate relationships with multiple young, female reporters, who were attempting to gain information about SSCI business,” prosecutors wrote.
Wolfe hid his conduct for this “selfish aim,” culminating in impairing the FBI’s national security functions and data sharing with the Senate oversight committee, according to prosecutors.
Wolfe was indicted June 7 on three counts of making false statements about his contacts with reporters while he served as the committee’s director of security, with duties that included overseeing the handling of secret and top-secret information turned over by the intelligence community for oversight purposes.
The government in June alleged that Wolfe, who had worked for the Senate committee from 1987 until May, lied to FBI agents in December 2017 about repeated contacts with four reporters, including through the use of encrypted messaging applications. He was also accused of lying about giving two reporters nonpublic information about matters before the committee.
In seeking community service, attorneys for Wolfe, of Ellicott City, Md., admitted he engaged in a romantic relationship with one of the other three reporters, Ali Watkins of the New York Times, whose email and phone records were later subpoenaed by the Justice Department.
Prosecutors said the FBI opened the criminal investigation in April 2017 after several news articles, including reports that the FBI had obtained a secret court order in October 2016 to monitor the communications of Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to then-candidate Trump in an investigation of possible links between the campaign and Russia.
In a plea deal with Wolfe, prosecutors dismissed two counts related to the other interactions, leaving Wolfe facing a possible recommended range of zero to six months under federal sentencing guidelines, or higher if U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington agrees with the government at Wolfe’s sentencing hearing.