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FBI Details Intelligence Staffer Probe Ahead of Sentencing

Sentencing hearing for James Wolfe scheduled on Dec. 20

James Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide, leaves the FBI’s Washington Field Office after being booked on June 11. A sentencing hearing for Wolfe is scheduled for Dec. 20.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
James Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide, leaves the FBI’s Washington Field Office after being booked on June 11. A sentencing hearing for Wolfe is scheduled for Dec. 20.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The FBI faced a dilemma and had to take “extraordinary” actions when it realized in 2017 that the former director of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee appeared compromised in his role safeguarding information and had a clandestine relationship with a national security journalist.

Had James Wolfe been an executive branch employee, the FBI would have notified intelligence agencies if a Top Secret clearance holder was compromised so they could protect national security, federal prosecutors wrote in a court filing Tuesday.

But because of Wolfe’s role and the potential disruption to the congressional oversight process, the FBI determined it first would conduct an additional investigation and monitoring of Wolfe’s activities.

And FBI executive leadership took “the extraordinary mitigating step” of limiting its initial notification to committee Chairman Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., and ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va.

“Had this delicate balance not been achieved,” prosecutors wrote, it could have disrupted information flow from the intelligence community to the committee and caused “an untenable degradation of national security oversight.”

The Justice Department revealed those and other details of its probe into Wolfe’s handling of nonpublic information Tuesday in the court filing, where they argued he should face two years in prison, in part because he abused the trust of the legislative branch to safeguard information.

“He abused that trust by using his position to cultivate relationships with reporters, employing encrypted communications, and offering to serve as a confidential source,” prosecutors wrote. “Wolfe then lied, and lied persistently, about his actions and his relationships to the FBI agents who were investigating an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”

A sentencing hearing for Wolfe on a charge of lying to the FBI is set for a Washington courtroom on Dec. 20 — a year after Wolfe left his job — and he plans to address the judge.

Attorneys for Wolfe, who was a committee aide for nearly 30 years, filed a sentencing memo Tuesday that sought probation and community service. He shared only limited, unclassified information about committee matters and has already paid a heavy price for his conduct, the attorneys argue.

“He lost his job and career, he betrayed his commitment to his wife and family and country, and he has been the subject of numerous articles falsely damning him for purportedly betraying his responsibilities regarding Classified Information,” Wolfe’s attorneys wrote.

Wolfe leans in part on a letter from Burr, Warner and former committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who asked the judge for leniency and said they don’t believe a prison sentence would do any public good.

“Like many others, we were surprised and disappointed when we learned of the allegations against Jim as they were totally out of character for someone who we considered a friend and had provided thoughtful support to the Committee’s membership and staff for so long,” the senators wrote.

The senators added that to the extent there was disclosure of nonpublic information, “it was of information considered Committee Sensitive, and the most severe punishment for such action has already, effectively, been imposed.”

Wolfe pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in October because he denied having contacts with reporters who wrote about a secret surveillance court and his “close personal relationship” with a reporter that started when she was an intern in 2013 and included tens of thousands of text messages and other communications.

Wolfe was responsible for helping to enforce committee rules that restricted contacts with the media as well as care and protection of classified information in the Capitol, the DOJ said in its memo.

The FBI launched the probe in April 2017 when classified national security information about surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page appeared in a news article. But DOJ said it expanded once agents realized it needed to investigate whether Wolfe had disseminated classified information.

Even as agents were delving into his actions, Wolfe began communicating with two new national security reporters in late 2017 through an encrypted service called Signal, the Justice Department wrote.

The Justice Department pointed to Wolfe’s role with members of Congress as part of its reasons for asking for the two-year sentence.

“Having served in this trusted capacity for nearly three decades — virtually his entire professional career — Wolfe was relied upon to ensure that classified national security information furnished to the SSCI by the Executive Branch was adequately protected,” prosecutors said.

Watch: Burr on Russia Investigation: ‘We’ve Gotta Do It on Facts’

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