The Department of Justice announced Thursday the indictment of Senate Intelligence Committee veteran James Wolfe, accused of making false statements about transmitting classified information to reporters such as then-Buzzfeed News turned New York Times reporter Ali Watkins.
Below are five must-read facts about Ali Watkins:
#1: The Justice Department seized Watkins’ phone and email records in its pursuit to identify leakers
As part of the Justice Department’s crackdown on unauthorized leaks, Watkins’ phone and email records were turned over to federal investigators, according to the New York Times.
Court documents say the national security reporter was made aware February 13 that Justice Department officials obtained “years of records for two email accounts and a phone number of hers,” in relation to its ongoing probe of James A. Wolfe.
#2: Watkins played a key role in breaking a bombshell report on the CIA’s Secret Detention Program
While only a senior studying journalism at Temple University, Watkins helped uncover shocking details related to the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program.
According to the story, the CIA monitored computers used by Senate aides to prepare the 6,300-page study that reportedly included waterboarding, and other interrogation methods.
“Congressional aides involved in preparing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s unreleased study of the CIA’s secret interrogation and detention program walked out of one of the spy agency’s top-secret facility with classified documents that the CIA contended they weren’t authorized to have,” reported McClatchy.
#3: The reporter has worked at several mainstream media news outlets
After graduating college, Watkin was hired at McClatchy as a national security and regional politics reporter. A year and six months later, the reporter joined The Huffington Post to cover national security.
Watkin moved over to BuzzFeed in November 2015 and broke a story about a 2013 meeting between former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page and Victor Podobnyy, a Russian intelligence agent.
In May 2017, the national security reporter was hired by Politico, staying for eight months before joining the New York Times, where she presently works.
#4: Watkins was romantically involved with James Wolfe, and her then-employer BuzzFeed may have known about it
According to the Justice Department’s indictment, the Senate Intel Committee security chief told FBI agents that he was romantically involved with “REPORTER #2,” who is widely believed to be Times reporter Ali Watkins.
“I’ve watched your career take off even before you ever had a career in journalism. … I always tried to give you as much Information (sic) that I could and to do the right thing with it so you could get that scoop before anyone else. … I always enjoyed the way that you would pursue a story, like nobody else was doing in my hal1way (sic),” Wolfe wrote to Watkins in December 2017, court documents say. “I felt like I was part of your excitement and was always very supportive of your career and the tenacity that you exhibited to chase down a good story,” the message read, according to the indictment.
Responding to the revelation, Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed News, tweeted, “We’re deeply troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter’s constitutional right to gather information about her own government.”
“I’m not going to comment at all on a reporter’s sources in the middle of an unjustifiable leak hunt,” Smith told Splinter. “I am baffled that the FBI and Justice Department are going to these dangerous lengths over a story that points to public court documents that describe Russian spies approaching a Trump adviser, who himself is quoted confirming his role in the episode. I’d like to know why that should be secret.”
A “BuzzFeed spokesman told The DCNF that the company does not dispute The Times’ reporting on Wolfe’s indictment, meaning that at least some BuzzFeed editors were aware of Watkins’ relationship with the Senate Intelligence aide,” writes media reporter Joe Simonson.
#5: A series of embarrassing tweets by the reporter have recently resurfaced
Watkins tweeted in 2013 about Netflix House of Cards character Zoe Barnes, an intrepid reporter involved in a brief romantic affair with then-Congressman Frank Underwood, a relationship many see as having parallels with Watkins and Wolfe’s relationship.
— Ali Watkins (@AliWatkins) April 2, 2013
Roughly one month later, Watkin tweeted another reference to Barnes.
— Ali Watkins (@AliWatkins) June 20, 2013