By J.D. Gordon
While few ever heard of Senate staffer James Wolfe prior to last week, he’s infamous today for being indicted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for allegedly lying to investigators about his relationship with three reporters. At least two reportedly were recipients of sensitive information from the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he was the longtime director of security. When confronted by authorities, Wolfe allegedly made false statements. A 57-year-old career staffer, he now faces up to 15 years in prison, five per reporter.
Though he wasn't well-known publicly, I had heard of him.
In May 2017, Wolfe was the first in a hit parade of investigators who summoned me to testify about Trump-Russia. Given months of 24/7 media speculation over so-called collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, I had expected to testify about my role as the campaign’s director of national security.
In the months to follow, I’d be called before all three congressional committees and the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 elections. And, similar to many of the roughly 50 Trump associates also called before perjury-trap-laden investigations, I was treated like a human piñata, to some degree, by many in the mainstream media. One of those was The New York Times.
Which seems ironic now, since the “Gray Lady” allegedly was involved in the Wolfe case, with the DOJ reportedly obtaining years’ worth of phone and email records on one of its journalists, Ali Watkins. According to authorities, Wolfe and Watkins were romantically involved for three years, as Watkins quickly climbed the beltway’s media ladder before movin’ on up to the Times. Must have been fun to reach such heights at just 26 years old.
But reporting leaks about individuals under investigation isn’t fun for the subjects of those reports. Nor is it victimless.
Government-investigation leakers teaming up with journalists is the very essence of tyranny. That’s because, unlike the American judicial concept of innocent until proven guilty, the reverse is true with media coverage: You are guilty until proven innocent.
When questioned by investigators, Wolfe allegedly denied even knowing Watkins. That is, until they reportedly showed him a photograph of the two of them together.
Watkins was not the only female journalist with whom Wolfe appears to have shared sensitive committee material targeting, for example, Trump campaign consultant Carter Page. On Oct. 16, 2017, Wolfe allegedly sent an encrypted message on the Signal app to another reporter about having served Page with a subpoena — obviously damaging information. The next day, NBC broke the news under the reporter’s byline.
Another story, this one by Watkins for a different media outlet than the Times, reported that campaign consultant George Papadopoulos met in 2016 with a Russian woman whom he believed to be Putin’s niece but who was really a poser named Olga Vinogradova. Again, sensitive and harmful information apparently straight out of a congressional investigation.
Page and Papadopoulos weren’t the only Trump associates sabotaged by investigators or reporters, either. It’s been a spree against dozens of us — former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Richard Gates; former White House national security adviser and retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn; Trump family members Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner; national co-chairman Sam Clovis; senior communications adviser Michael Caputo; and many more.
For example, in July 2017, two networks’ reporters called me about a congressional leak alleging that I had canceled my House Intelligence Committee testimony at the last minute without a reason — implying some headline-making drama. In reality, the opposite was true: The committee told my attorney, with plenty of notice, that it needed to postpone my hearing.
Later that summer, a Washington Post reporter called me the day after my special counsel testimony — referencing the special counsel and a specific subject that had come up. Coincidence? I immediately called those who conducted the interview and warned that any more illegal leaks would have severe consequences — if that was what had happened. The reporter dropped the story which surely would have caused inflammatory headlines at my expense for being summoned by Robert Mueller’s team at all. As Washington insiders have said, it’s hard to find work when people think you might be indicted.
Bottom line, enough is enough. Congress and DOJ must clean up the Trump-Russia investigation and boost efforts to stamp out criminal behavior in their midst. For every Wolfe out there, goodness knows how many haven’t been caught. Yet.
J.D. Gordon was a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 to 2009, and is a retired Navy commander. He has served as a full-time senior national security and foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and Herman Cain.