Wolfe launches legal defense fund in ‘fight for his life, freedom and reputation’

James A. Wolfe (Photo courtesy of James Wolfe Legal Defense Fund)

WASHINGTON — James A. Wolfe — the former Senate Intelligence Committee security director charged with repeatedly lying to FBI agents about his contact with reporters during an investigation into alleged unauthorized disclosures of classified information — has launched a legal defense fund.

The James Wolfe Legal Defense Fund appeal on GoFundMe says Wolfe is in “the fight of his life” for “his freedom and his reputation.”’

Wolfe, 57, launched the campaign with a $500,000 fundraising goal. Seventeen hours after the launch, 11 people had contributed a total of $560.

The GoFundMe page reads: “Jim is battling the full weight of the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice in this unwarranted and unfair prosecution. He has been swept up in the frenzy surrounding information leaks in today’s charged DC atmosphere, but he has not been charged with leaking or mishandling classified information. He has been singled out among Congressional and Executive branch officials for contacts with reporters.  His case raises very real First Amendment and Freedom of the Press issues.”

The fundraising appeal continues: “Jim is fighting alone. Paying legal defense bills is a crushing burden for anyone — especially someone who has worked for the government his entire adult life.  He needs the support of others in this fight.”

Wolfe, who was arrested at his Ellicott City, Md., home last week, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the federal charges in U.S. District Court in Washington. After his plea, his lawyers said they would ask a federal judge to impose a gag order barring President Donald Trump and his administration from making comments on Twitter or in any other forum that could prejudice a criminal trial.

Wolfe lawyers attack ‘unfair and unjustified prosecution’

The GoFundMe page includes a link to a statement issued by Wolfe’s  lawyers at the Washington-based law firm Buckley Sander after he pleaded not guilty, in which they pledged to “vigorously defend Mr. Wolfe against this unfair and unjustified prosecution.”

At his first federal court appearance last week, in Baltimore, Wolfe requested a public defender.

Prosecutors alleged in an indictment that Wolfe had made false statements last year about contacts with three reporters amid an investigation into alleged leaks of classified information. Prosecutors did not allege Wolfe illegally disclosed national security secrets.

The New York Times identified one of the reporters as 26-year-old Ali Watkins, who covers federal law enforcement for the newspaper, and with whom the paper and the federal indictment said Wolfe had a romantic relationship from December 2014 to December 2017.

The Times reported prosecutors had seized several years’ worth of Watkins’ email and phone records. The indictment said Wolfe and Watkins had “exchanged tens of thousands of electronic communications,” including daily texts and phone calls and some encrypted messages and that they had frequently met in stairwells of the Hart Senate Office Building, bars, restaurants and private residences, including Watkins’s apartment.

The Times said Watkins told the newspaper’s editors of the relationship after being hired but before beginning work there last December. Watkins, the Times reported, has said Wolfe had not provided her information for any stories during the relationship.

Watkins wrote numerous stories about the Intelligence Committee for the McClatchy Co.’s Washington bureau, Politico, BuzzFeed News and The Huffington Post.  The Times reported that she had told editors at the paper of the relationship after being hired in December, but said she never received information for stories from Wolfe while in the relationship.

The indictment focused heavily on April 3, 2017, BuzzFeed News story by Watkins reporting that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had met with a Russian operative in New York City in 2013. That day, before and after pthe ublication of the story, Wolfe and Watkins exchanged about 124 electronic communications and spoke on a cellphone call for seven  minutes, the indictment says.

Watkins had received a letter from the Justice Department in February notifying her that the department had seized her records, but she did not inform the paper until last week, heeding the advice of her lawyer, the newspaper said.

Times probing Wolfe-Watkins relationship

The Times reported Tuesday it had launched an internal investigation into the work history of Watkins, including “the nature of her relationship with Mr. Wolfe, and what she disclosed about it to her prior employers.”

Neither Watkins nor her attorney could be reached for comment.

Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said Watkins is taking off for a vacation she had previously planned.

A day after Wolfe’s arrest, Trump called him “a very important leaker,” adding that his arrest “could be a terrific thing.”

“I’m a big, big believer in freedom of the press,” the president told reporters at the White House. “But I’m also a believer in classified information. It has to remain classified. Reporters can’t leak. You cannot leak classified information. At the same time, we need freedom of the press. But you cannot leak.”

Trump has repeatedly expressed his disgust over leaks – and his disdain for leakers and journalists to whom the sensitive information is leaked.

In one of a series of partly redacted Justice Department memos released by congressional lawmakers in April, James Comey, the former FBI director Trump ousted in May 2017, recalled a conversation in which Comey said the president talked about ferreting out and punishing leakers – and jailing reporters.

“I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message,” Comey wrote in a Feb. 14, 2017, memo based on his notes from an Oval Office meeting. “I said I was eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message. I said something about it being difficult, and he replied that we need to go after the reporters. [He said] ‘they spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.'”

Trump, Comey wrote, referred to Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter imprisoned for nearly three months in 2005 for refusing to identify a source in a story about who had revealed the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. (The Times forced Miller out in 2005 amid criticism of her unfounded reporting that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.)

Comey said he laughed at the suggestion of jailing reporters from Trump, who has repeatedly called the press the “enemy of the people” since his first weeks in office.

On April 19, the day the story of the Comey memos broke nationally, Trump attacked Comey — again — as a leaker abetting a “witch hunt,”  tweeting:

This article is reposted with Talk Media News permsission.