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U.S. prosecutors: Won’t subpoena journalists in James Wolfe leak probe case

James Wolfe, left, former director of security with the Senate Intelligence Committee accompanied by his attorney Benjamin Klubes leaves federal courthouse in the District June 13.
James Wolfe, left, former director of security with the Senate Intelligence Committee accompanied by his attorney Benjamin Klubes leaves federal courthouse in the District June 13. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Federal prosecutors said they are not seeking to subpoena reporters or Senate aides in the prosecution of James A. Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer charged with lying to the FBI about his contacts with journalists.

Attorneys for Wolfe, meanwhile, are asking a federal judge for a gag order, including on President Trump, to forbid government officials from making remarks they contend could harm Wolfe’s case.

Wolfe, 57, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of making false statements in a government crackdown on leaks that collected a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records.

On Tuesday, each side laid out some of its strategy in Washington at a status hearing before U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“The government is not seeking to subpoena” attorneys, Senate Intelligence Committee aides or reporters, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tejpal Chawla said in court, adding, “this is not what the government is seeking. Maybe the defense, but not the government.”

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The development is an indication that prosecutors have become mostly focused on proving Wolfe lied to the FBI and are not necessarily engaged in an effort to identify all of the reporters he spoke to and what information he may have shared.

But if the government does not call reporters as witnesses, it could put defense attorneys in the position of doing so, if they felt other reporters could help their case. Wolfe’s attorneys after the hearing declined to comment about who they might subpoena, calling it premature to discuss defense plans.

Separately, they told the judge they were asking for a gag order, citing “interesting issues presented” by what they called prejudicial remarks by Trump on Wolfe’s case and other matters that have gone before federal courts.

The morning after Wolfe’s June 7 arrest, the motion alleged, Trump announced the Justice Department had just “caught a leaker. It’s a very important leaker. . . . You cannot leak classified information.”

Wolfe is not charged with disclosing classified information, although investigators who interviewed him in December told him they were probing multiple unauthorized disclosures of classified data to one or more reporters, prosecutors said in court filings.

Wolfe’s attorneys cited Trump’s “near daily proclivity” to issue “attacks on the integrity of the judicial system” as well as “his views on guilt of individuals, appropriateness of sentences, and who and what should be investigated by the Department of Justice.”“Criminal defendants have a fundamental constitutional right to a fair trial by an impartial jury. That right is jeopardized when government officials make inflammatory, misleading pretrial statements to the public about a defendant or his or her case, particularly when those statements are highly publicized,” wrote attorneys Preston Burton and Benjamin B. Klubes of the Buckley Sandler law firm.

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Wolfe’s attorneys also faulted Assistant Attorney General John Demers for saying the case concerned “unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and confidential information,” when Wolfe’s indictment referred only to disclosure of material “not otherwise publicly available.”

The former Senate staffer, who had 30 years on the job, retired last month as the committee’s director of security. He is charged with lying about his contacts with four reporters and about giving reporters “nonpublic information” about matters before the committee.

Among the allegations is that Wolfe lied about exchanges with a New York Times reporter, Ali Watkins, who previously had been in a romantic relationship with him. Law enforcement officials seized years’ worth of Watkins’s phone and email records in their investigation of Wolfe.

Senate intelligence aide pleads not guilty in leak probe, seeks gag order on President Trump

The judge said she would give the government time to respond, but questioned whether a gag order — which typically applies to the parties in a case and their attorneys — could extend to the White House.

For prosecutors’ part, Chawla told the court, “I don’t represent the president of the United States. I represent the United States in this matter,” adding that he expected any legal filing in reply to the gag order request would be handled by other attorneys or parts of the government.

Wolfe’s responsibilities on the committee included managing the secure handling, tracking and storage of some of the most highly classified material provided to Congress.

Klubes reiterated that Wolfe, a former Army intelligence officer, planned to vigorously defend himself against the charges.

Jackson set the next hearing in the case for July 9, and no trial date is set.

Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

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