Top senators seek leniency for ex-staffer who lied to FBI

Prosecutors say the ex-staffer, James Wolfe, "significantly endangered national security" by speaking with reporters.
Image: Dianne Feinstein
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, responds to reporters' questions on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Sept. 18, 2018.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Three high-ranking senators asked a federal judge for leniency on behalf of a former Senate intelligence committee staffer who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, even as the government argues that the ex-staffer "significantly endangered national security" by speaking with reporters.

The letter from Democrats Mark Warner and Dianne Feinstein and Republican Richard Burr was included in a sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday by James Wolfe's attorneys.

Wolfe was the longtime director of security for the committee — one of multiple congressional panels investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign — and pleaded guilty in October to a single charge in the three-count indictment against him.

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Prosecutors said Wolfe told a reporter in October 2017 that he had served someone with a subpoena involving the potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign and later lied to FBI agents about the exchange. Their names weren't made public.

After the reporter published a story about the subpoena, Wolfe congratulated them, saying in a message, "I'm glad you got the scoop," according to the indictment.

Wolfe was not accused of leaking classified information. Prosecutors said Wolfe was in regular contact with several reporters who covered the committee, in violation of Senate rules. He also maintained a yearslong personal relationship with one reporter that he lied about until being confronted with a photograph of himself and the journalist.

In court documents Tuesday, Wolfe's lawyers said he deeply regrets his actions and violating his marital vows and argued that he shouldn't serve any time behind bars. The senators expressed a similar sentiment in their letter to the judge.

"Jim has already lost much through these events, to include his career and reputation, and we do not believe there is any public utility in depriving him of his freedom," the senators wrote.

Prosecutors, however, argued that Wolfe lied to agents so he wouldn't lose his job and, in doing so, "caused significant disruption to a government function and significantly endangered the national security."

"He abused that trust by using his position to cultivate relationships with reporters, employing encrypted communications, and offering to serve as a confidential source," the prosecutors wrote.