Amidst a battle between the President of the United States and the Intelligence Community that has sparked formal impeachment proceedings against the president by Democrats in Congress, federal law enforcement officials have formally charged an intelligence community official with leaking highly classified information to the media.
This comes in the wake of a top-ranking congressional intelligence committee staffer facing similar charges of leaking last year and sets the stage for a larger fight between Trump and intelligence community leakers.
The nature of these intelligence community leakers’ deeply personal relationships with the reporters to whom they were leaking — both cases involved romantic relationships — seems more like a House of Cards episode than real life.
But the federal law enforcement charges against each casts the intelligence community as a whole in a deeply negative light, as Democrats on Capitol Hill begin to rely on these spooks for their increasingly partisan impeachment efforts against Trump.
The case of the intelligence leaker ensnared Wednesday showed how anti-Trump intelligence officials are risking their careers and using their relationships with the media to leak classified information embarrassing to the Trump administration.
Henry Kyle Frese, an employee with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), was charged with two counts of leaking classified information to two journalists identified by journalist Matthew Keys and later the Wall Street Journal as CNBC’s Amanda Macias and NBC News’s Courtney Kube. Frese and Macias were romantically involved.
The complaint against Frese said, in or about mid-April to May 2018, he accessed an intelligence report unrelated to his job duties “on multiple occasions.” A week after he accessed the report a second time, “Journalist 1” — believed to be Macias, asked him to speak to “Journalist 2” — believed to be Kube. Frese told Journalist 1 he was “down” to help Journalist 2 if it helped her because he wanted to see her “progress.”
Frese would later search on a classified U.S. government computer system for terms related to the topics contained in the intelligence report. A few hours after searching those terms, he spoke with Journalist 1 for seven minutes, and spoke to Journalist 2 for over half an hour. About half an hour after he spoke with both journalists, Journalist 1 published an article through her outlet, which contained classified information from the report. After Journalist 1 tweeted the article, Frese retweeted it.
In September 2019, Frese accessed two additional intelligence reports, and texted Journalist 2 to tell her to call him. During the call, he transmitted classified information.
The Justice Department said in a statement that Frese “was caught red-handed disclosing sensitive national security information for personal gain.”
“The unauthorized disclosure of top secret information could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security of the United States,” it said.
Prosecutors said Macias published eight articles containing classified defense information between May and July 2018, according to the Guardian. Frese was arrested Wednesday when he showed up for work and was due to appear later that day in U.S. district court in Alexandria, Virginia.
Frese, like the intelligence official who recently filed a whistleblower complaint against Trump, has a background in Russia and NATO, according to his Twitter profile.
The episode carried echoes of a previous case of an intelligence official leaking to a reporter he was romantically involved with. In 2018, James Wolfe, a fifty-something senior aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaked classified documents to New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, with whom he was having a romantic relationship.
Wolfe worked at the committee while it was investigating whether Trump colluded with Russia, and he leaked to Watkins classified material, such as an application for a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign official Carter Page.
The announcement of Frese’s arrest broke loose a barrage of anger and mocking, particularly from conservatives and Trump supporters who have become increasingly frustrated with intelligence officials leaking and hiding behind the cloak of anonymity.
You are tweeting out the article of the reporter you were leaking to – and living with!
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) October 9, 2019
The Federalist Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway called the culture of politicized leaking “worrisome”:
Review of arrested leaker’s social media shows, in addition to extreme anti-Trump views, confidence there’d be no repercussions for leaking. He freely and openly engages with recipient of stolen information. Our natsec culture of politicized leaking is worrisome.
Review of arrested leaker's social media shows, in addition to extreme anti-Trump views, confidence there'd be no repercussions for leaking. He freely and openly engages with recipient of stolen information. Our natsec culture of politicized leaking is worrisome.
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) October 9, 2019
Frese’s Twitter account has a number of anti-Trump tweets.
Like Frese, the intelligence official behind the whistleblower complaint against Trump also used classified material that somehow made its way to the press.
His concerns stemmed from a classified telephone call between the president and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that only government officials had direct and indirect access to.
Those concerns made their way to an aide of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Schiff himself, but were kept hidden from Republicans.
Instead, Schiff’s aide instructed the whistleblower to seek legal counsel and file a whistleblower complaint with the intelligence community inspector general, which would afford him more protections and allow the committee more latitude in publicizing his complaints.
House Democrats then used those concerns to launch an impeachment inquiry.
A lawyer for the whistleblower told Breitbart News on Tuesday that the whistleblower, or anyone else he and his team will represent, have no intentions of revealing their identities, raising the specter of an anonymous official leading to the impeachment of a president.
But Frese’s arrest also showed that the administration’s efforts to crack down on illegal leaks since 2017 are bearing fruit.
Frese’s case is the sixth federal case involving leaks of classified information in a little over two years, according to the Guardian.
The first case involved Reality Winner, a former intelligence analyst who leaked a report about Russian interference in the 2016 election to the Intercept. She is currently serving five years in jail.
“Frese betrayed the trust placed in him by the American people, a betrayal that risked harming the national security of this country,” said John Demers, assistant attorney general, in a phone call with reporters.