The former security chief for the Senate Intelligence Committee was sentenced to two months in prison Thursday for lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters.
The sentence handed down against James Wolfe came over the objections of prosecutors who had asked that he be sentenced to two years in prison, and defense attorneys who had asked for no prison time.
“Your honor, I am so sorry,” Wolfe told Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson through tears at the sentencing hearing, according to The Washington Post. “I am beyond embarrassed, I am beyond humiliated, I am beyond mortified.”
Jackson had harsh words for Wolfe and his crime in court Thursday.
“Making false statements to a government agent is a federal crime precisely because of the risk that such lies will thwart legitimate law enforcement inquiries, making it impossible for the truth to be known and for justice to be served,” Jackson said, according to BuzzFeed News.
The FBI arrested Wolfe in June on three charges that he lied the FBI about his communications with New York Times reporter Ali Watkins and two other reporters. Wolfe pleaded guilty to one of those counts in October, and prosecutors dropped the other two.
The indictment revealed that Wolfe, who is married, and Watkins carried on a romantic relationship for years. It also showed that Wolfe shared sensitive, non-public information with Watkins and other reporters. But the charging document did not accuse Wolfe of disclosing classified information, which is illegal.
The case drew widespread attention over the summer because the government seized Watkins’ telephone and email records during its investigation of Wolfe — a move that raised concerns about whether the Trump administration would respect Justice Department policies that are designed to protect freedom of the press.
Prosecutors had argued that Wolfe should serve two years in prison, four times the upper limit of the 0-6 month sentencing guideline. The judge called Wolfe’s contacts with reporters “inappropriate” but declined to consider them in deciding his sentence.
“Having an affair is not a crime, maintaining relationships with reporters is not a crime, even giving sensitive non-public but not classified information to a reporter is not a crime,” Jackson said, according to The Washington Post.
The former chair of the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), signed onto a letter from its current leadership, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), asking Jackson to be lenient on Wolfe, whom they referred to as “Jim.”
“[W]e do not believe there is any public utility in depriving him of his freedom,” the senators wrote.
Ultimately, Jackson decided that Wolfe’s position protecting government secrets made his lie to federal investigators more serious than those of former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort associate Alex van der Zwaan. Both men pleaded guilty to lying to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and were sentenced to 14 days and 30 days, respectively.
Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, will be sentenced for lying to federal prosecutors next year after federal Judge Emmet Sullivan excoriated him in court this week, raising doubts Flynn can avoid jail time.
“This sets up an interesting spectrum for the judge to consider when Michael Flynn is sentenced,” BuzzFeed News reporter Zoe Tillman pointed out on Twitter.