Senate Aide Accused of Lying to F.B.I. Pleads Not Liable

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((Independent Recorder))@

WASHINGTON — A former top staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of lying to the F.B.I. about his contacts with reporters, and his defense lawyer accused the Justice Department and President Trump of making inappropriate comments about the case that could poison the jury pool.

The former staff member, James A. Wolfe, appeared before a magistrate judge at the federal courthouse blocks from the Senate office building where he used to work. Mr. Wolfe was indicted last week on three counts of lying to F.B.I. agents working on a leak investigation, but has not been charged with unlawfully disclosing classified information.

At the hearing, prosecutors told Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson that they had no objections to letting him remain free for now without posting a bond, but asked for several conditions, including restricting his travel. Mr. Wolfe had surrendered his passport after he made an initial appearance this week at a courthouse in Maryland.

Mr. Wolfe showed no emotion as he sat in the courtroom, occasionally rising to briefly address Judge Robinson. He left most of the speaking to one of his defense lawyers, Preston Burton, who entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Mr. Burton also sharply criticized government officials — including Mr. Trump — for making statements that he suggested impugned his client’s character by implying that Mr. Wolfe had illegally leaked national security secrets.

Two of the three charges against Mr. Wolfe related to allegations that he told reporters nonpublic information that he had learned as a result of his role as a staff member of the Intelligence Committee. But none of the false statement charges accuse Mr. Wolfe of leaking classified information.

Mr. Burton pointed to a Justice Department news release about the case, which framed Mr. Wolfe’s purported false statements as arising in “the course of an investigation into the unlawful disclosure of classified information.” He also criticized as “glib” comments made by Mr. Trump on Friday when the president spoke to reporters about the case.

Mr. Trump had said the arrest of Mr. Wolfe “could be a terrific thing,” and stressed that “you cannot leak classified information.”

After the hearing on Wednesday, Mr. Burton told reporters that the defense was likely to file a motion seeking a court order “prohibiting the government at all levels, including President Trump, from making improper and prejudicial statements regarding this case.”

The indictment described Mr. Wolfe’s interactions with several unnamed reporters. One of them is Ali Watkins, who covered the Senate Intelligence Committee for several news outlets, including BuzzFeed News and Politico, before joining The New York Times in December. Ms. Watkins and Mr. Wolfe had an extended personal relationship that ended last year, and in February, the Justice Department informed her that it had seized records about her phone calls and emails.

Also on Thursday, two Democratic lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Mr. Trump’s first and second secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly and Kirstjen Nielsen, about an apparent Customs and Border Protection agent, Jeffrey A. Rambo, who approached Ms. Watkins in June 2017.

Mr. Rambo asked Ms. Watkins about her relationship with Mr. Wolfe, according to a report this week in The Washington Post, and revealed that he knew about their travel abroad together. According to the newspaper, Mr. Rambo sought to enlist Ms. Watkins in revealing leakers of classified information; it was unclear whether he was working alone or as part of a larger effort.

In the letter, the lawmakers, Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York and Jamie Raskin of Maryland, asked Mr. Kelly and Ms. Nielsen whether they or any other official had authorized Mr. Rambo to approach Ms. Watkins. The lawmakers also asked when the Trump administration officials first learned about the episode, and whether Mr. Rambo or any other Customs and Border Protection employee had similarly approached any other reporters.

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