James Wolfe, the former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges that he lied to FBI agents about his contacts with reporters in an investigation into the leak of classified information to the press.
The longtime Senate staffer faces three charges of perjury for making false statements to the FBI. He is not charged with leaking classified information.
Mr. Wolfe’s legal team said after the hearing, they would seek a gag order barring government employees, including President Trump, from speaking about the case. He called Mr. Trump’s comments, “improper and prejudicial.”
On Friday, Mr. Trump called Mr. Wolfe, “a very important leaker” and said his arrest “could be a terrific thing.”
“I believe strongly in the freedom of the press. I’m a big, big believer in freedom of the press,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “But I’m also a believer in classified information. It has to remain classified. And that includes [former FBI Director James] Comey and his band of thieves who leaked classified information all over the place. So I’m a big believer in freedom of the press, but I’m also a believer you cannot leak classified information.”
Benjamin Klubes, who is representing Mr. Wolfe, pushed back against the claims the ex-Senate staffer leaked classified information. He vowed to “vigorously defend Mr. Wolfe against this unfair and unjustified prosecution.”
“He was entrusted with the government’s most important classified secrets while working as the director of security for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for almost 30 years,” Mr. Klubes said in an impromptu press conference after the hearing. “Mr. Wolfe has never breached that trust.”
Mr. Wolfe had been responsible for managing and transporting all classified materials to the committee, which has spent the past 18 months investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He even escorted witnesses who testified before the committee in connection to the Russia probe until he was placed on leave in December.
Mr. Wolfe officially retired in May.
An indictment unsealed last week appears to indicate that Mr. Wolfe leaked information to reporters about Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The government also alleges Mr. Wolfe reached out to an unnamed reporter and offered to be a source regularly sharing messages and phone calls.
Mr. Wolfe’s arrested came the same day the Justice Department seized years worth of email and phone records belonging to New York Times reporter Ali Watkins.
Ms. Watkins, 26, who had a three-year romantic relationship with Mr. Wolfe is believed to be the person identified in the indictment as Reporter #2.
The indictment says Mr. Wolfe, 58, started a relationship in 2013 with an undergraduate student who was also working as an intern with a news service. The pair exchanged tens of thousands of indictments over the next few years, according to the indictment. The two also exchanged a number of messages on April 3, 2017, according to the indictment. That day Ms. Watkins, who was then at BuzzFeed, wrote a story saying Mr. Page met with a Russian spy.
Ms. Watkins admitted to the relationship, but denied Mr. Wolfe was her source, according to a New York Times article. The same article said she told her previous employers, BuzzFeed and Politico, about the relationship, which ended before she joined The Times.
But the indictment appears to contradict that claim. In one text message, Mr. Wolfe told her that he “always tried to give you as much information that I could and to do the right thing with it so you could that scoop before anyone else.”
On Wednesday, The Times said it is looking into Ms. Watkins’ work history before joining the paper. That announcement came as reports surfaced that federal agent who knew about her relationship with Mr. Wolfe and tried to solicit her help in tracking down leaks.
A Customs and Border Patrol agent, Jeffrey Rambo, met with Ms. Watkins last June, according to media reports. Mr. Rambo met with Ms. Watkins at a Washington, D.C. restaurant. He told her he was aware of the relationship, even naming dates and destinations of overseas trips the couple had taken together.
The CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is reportedly reviewing Mr. Rambo’s activities.
A CBP spokeswoman told The Washington Post that it “takes all allegations of employee misconduct seriously.”
Inside the courtroom, District Judge Deborah Robinson, restricted Mr. Wolfe’s travel to only Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia, with exceptions for three family members in other states. She also imposed similar bail requirements as a Baltimore judge last week. Judge Robinson barred Mr. Wolfe from applying for a job that requires a security clearance and from disclosing classified materials.
Mr. Wolfe’s attorney’s did not object to the bail conditions.
The next court appearance for Wolfe is a status hearing on June 19 with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will oversee the case.