Leak Investigation That Led to Senate Aide’s Indictment Puts Spotlight on New York Times Reporter

The first known leak investigation of the Trump administration has put under scrutiny a 20-something New York Times reporter, who enjoyed a meteoric rise through Washington’s journalism ranks that began while she was still in college.

Times reporter Ali Watkins hasn’t been charged in the Justice Department’s investigation of the leak of classified information from the Senate Intelligence Committee. But the revelation late Thursday that the FBI had secretly seized years’ worth of Watkins’ phone and email records, dating back to when she was a student at Temple University, raised questions about her relationship with the man at the center of the investigation.

Watkins’ romantic involvement with former intelligence committee aide James Wolfe — who was indicted on Thursday — focused attention on her reporting for such news organizations as McClatchy’s Washington bureau, BuzzFeed and Politico.

The news of the seizure of Watkins’ records surfaced Thursday when Wolfe, 57, was arrested and charged with lying to investigators about his contacts with three reporters, including Watkins, who is now 26. Wolfe’s case is the first known instance of the Justice Department seizing a reporter’s data under the Trump administration.

Watkins joined the Times in December, after her relationship with Wolfe had ended. She told the Times about the relationship when she was hired, according to the Times.

But it appears Watkins left previous employers in the dark about her relationship with Wolfe even while she was reporting on the intelligence committee.

Editors at McClatchy said Friday that they were not aware of Watkins’ relationship with Wolfe while she was with the news organization’s Washington bureau, first as an intern and stretching from mid-2013 to the end of 2014.

During that time, Watkins was part of a team of three reporters that produced a series of stories about the intelligence committee’s investigation of the CIA and its “enhanced interrogation” or torture program. The series was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in national reporting in 2015.

“We were not aware of these allegations that Mr. Wolfe had a relationship with Ali Watkins until the news of the indictment broke,” said Tim Grieve, vice president of news for McClatchy.

Grieve, who joined McClatchy after Watkins left the company, said he did not know whether Watkins used Wolfe as a source in her stories. “We need to figure that out,” he said. “We just don’t know” whether Wolfe provided information to her.

But he added, “It’s clearly inappropriate for a reporter to be in a relationship with a source and to be reporting on him.”

Watkins did not respond to requests for comment. Wolfe declined to answer reporters’ questions after a hearing Friday.

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SOURCE: Chicago Tribune