The New York Times says it is reviewing the work history of national security reporter Ali Watkins, a Temple University graduate caught up in an FBI leak investigation.
Last week, the Times disclosed that federal officials had seized Watkins’ phone and email records in an investigation of James A. Wolfe, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s former director of security.
Wolfe, 57, has been charged with making false statements to the FBI.
Watkins and Wolfe had been involved romantically. The Times reported Tuesday that the newspaper was reviewing Watkins’ involvement in the case, her relationship with Wolfe and what she had disclosed about it to earlier employers.
Both Watkins and Wolfe have denied that he leaked information to her; however she was approached twice within the past year regarding their relationship. The first time she was contacted by the FBI and the other time by a man that the Washington Post later reported to be Customs and Border Protection agent Jeffrey Rambo.
After these interactions, Watkins disclosed to her then-employer, Politico, that she had been involved with Wolfe. According to the Times, the news outlet continued to allow her to publish “stories focused on the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
Watkins, who interned at the Daily News in 2013, began working for The Times in December 2017. After learning that her records were seized, Watkins continued her reporting without informing the newspaper that she was being investigated, the Times said.
“Ms. Watkins received a letter in February from the Justice Department informing her that it had obtained her records,” the Times reported. “She consulted with her lawyer about the letter at the time and on his advice did not tell The Times about it until late last week.”
The Times’ inquiry is being led internally by associate managing editor Charlotte Behrendt. Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman, told the paper that Watkins was set to leave on “a previously planned vacation.”
Her current colleagues have largely been quiet about the matter. A handful of journalists have voiced support for Watkins, including Sam Stein, a reporter for the Daily Beast who previously worked for the Huffington Post.
— Sam Stein (@samstein) June 8, 2018
Watkins previously worked for the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and McClatchy-Tribune, where she, as an intern, helped McClatchy newspapers report a story that said the CIA was covertly monitoring computers used by aides who were preparing a Senate Intelligence Committee report critical of the spy agency’s secret detention and interrogation programs.
The seizure of Watkins’ records has raised questions surrounding the freedom of the press, law enforcement’s rights to intervene and journalism ethics. Reactions have been mixed, both the Justice Department and Watkins facing criticism.
Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, which provides legal assistance to journalists, issued a statement that expressed disapproval of the seizure and challenged the Justice Department to explain why it was necessary to the investigation.
"Seizing a journalist's records sends a terrible message to the public & should never be considered except as the last resort in a truly essential investigation."
— Reporters Committee (@rcfp) June 8, 2018
Others focused on Watkins’ actions more than the government’s.
New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin published an article arguing that Watkins should be disciplined because her relationship with Wolfe undermined the credibility of the Times and other news outlets. He also said that Watkins’ choice to not immediately tell The Times about the seizure “should weigh heavily against her.”