Former Senate Intelligence Committee staff member James Wolfe pleaded guilty Monday to one count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with a reporter.
Federal prosecutors accused Wolfe, a former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, of lying to FBI agents in December 2017 about his contacts with three reporters, including through his use of encrypted messaging applications.
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Judge Ketanji B. Jackson asked Wolfe, "Did you make a false statement to the FBI?"
"I did, your honor," Wolfe responded.
Jackson continued, "Are you entering a guilty plea because you are in fact guilty and for no other reason?"
Wolfe, standing next to his attorney, paused before he finally replied, "Yes, your honor."
"I'm guilty, your honor," he added.
Sentencing has been set for the afternoon of December 20, and sentencing guidelines indicate he could face up to six months in prison. The plea will allow all sides to avoid what could have been a high-profile and contentious trial, with reporters, lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers potentially being subpoenaed.
Wolfe's guilty plea came after the Justice Department announced in June that the former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer had been arrested and indicted for lying to the FBI during an investigation into unlawful disclosure of classified information. President Donald Trump remarked on the arrest at the time, saying, "They caught a leaker."
The Justice Department said in a statement that as part of the plea agreement with Wolfe, it would dismiss the two other false-statements charges against him. The statement said Wolfe's guilty plea was an admission he made false statements to the FBI about providing the media with "unclassified, but not otherwise publicly available, information."
Although Wolfe pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, he has not been charged with unlawfully disclosing classified information. Wolfe's attorneys issued a statement on Monday emphasizing that Wolfe "was never charged with having compromised classified information" and that such a charge was not part of his guilty plea.
"Jim has accepted responsibility for his actions and has chosen to resolve this matter now so that he and his family can move forward with their lives," the statement read. "We will have much more to say about the facts and Jim's distinguished record of nearly three decades of dedicated service to the Senate and the intelligence community at his sentencing hearing."
The New York Times reported at the time of the announcement of Wolfe's indictment that federal authorities had seized phone and email records from one of the paper's reporters, Ali Watkins, who had a relationship with Wolfe for three years.
Watkins told the Times that Wolfe had not provided her with classified information during their relationship.
The indictment earlier this year and Wolfe's guilty plea on Monday came as Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have called for aggressively pursuing people who provide the public with sensitive information. Sessions said about a year ago that the Justice Department during his tenure had stepped up its active leak investigations relative to recent years -- noting 27 open investigations at the time of his comments last November.
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