Political News

Senators bracing for subpoenas in criminal case of former Hill aide

Posted July 26, 2018 8:42 a.m. EDT

A former Senate aide charged with lying to the FBI has privately reached out to senators to seek their help in his criminal trial, raising the prospect that they may be subpoenaed to testify, Senate sources told CNN.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have received letters from the legal team of the panel's former head of security, James Wolfe, asking if they would assist in his defense, either as a character witness or to help rebut the allegations made by federal authorities.

Whether any will cooperate is an open question. But if they refuse, it could prompt a legal fight over whether provisions under the "speech or debate" clause of the Constitution -- designed to protect lawmakers over Executive Branch interference -- could allow them to avoid taking the stand in what could be a messy criminal trial.

The issue could come up Thursday at a status hearing for Wolfe, where a trial date is likely to be set. After the trial date is set, senators and potentially reporters who were in contact with Wolfe could be hit with subpoenas.

Sen. James Lankford, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirmed to CNN that he had received a letter from Wolfe's legal team asking for his assistance. But the Oklahoma Republican said he was at a loss with what assistance he could give.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr declined to comment when asked whether Wolfe reached out to him.

"You'll have to ask Jim," Burr, a North Carolina Republican, told CNN.

A Wolfe attorney declined to comment.

Wolfe, 57, was arrested in June on charges of lying to FBI agents in December 2017 when he was interviewed about his alleged contacts with several reporters. The indictment accuses Wolfe of making false statements to the FBI about providing reporters with non-public information involving issues before the panel, which delves into classified intelligence.

Wolfe has pleaded not guilty.

The case has received national attention because the Justice Department seized the records of New York Times reporter Ali Watkins without first notifying her, alarming First Amendment advocates. Watkins, who had covered the committee, was involved in a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe.