How an older male source helped jump-start a young Washington reporter’s career

by WorldTribune Staff, June 10, 2018

New York Times reporter Ali Watkins once tweeted her disapproval of a Washington, D.C.-based reporter having an affair with her source.

James A. Wolfe and Ali Watkins

That affair, between the evil Frank Underwood and reporter Zoe Barnes, occurred on the fictional television series “House of Cards”.

“I wanted to be Zoe Barnes …. until episode 4,” Watkins tweeted. “Sleeping with your source – especially a vindictive congressman?”

But, in real life, did the young reporter actually take her own advice?

It doesn’t appear so.

“What is known today is that in December 2013,” Watkins, then a 22-year-old Temple University intern for McClatchy News in Washington, “had begun a romantic relationship with James A. Wolfe, a man 30 years her senior. He happened to sit amid a flow of juicy information as director of security” for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” security correspondent Rowan Scarborough wrote in a June 9 report for The Washington Times.

That “juicy information” led to Watkins being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her insider story about the CIA’s monitoring of the computers of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s staff.

“The chronology suggests Wolfe, then Watkins’ lover, was a source for the computer story. They had been an item for four months,” Scarborough wrote.

The Watkins-Wolfe romance lasted four years before the FBI intervened, Scarborough noted.

Meanwhile, Watkins “went on to land jobs in quick succession at HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Politico and finally the New York Times, where she resides today at the Washington bureau,” Scarborough wrote.

In its indictment of Wolfe released on June 8, the Department of Justice said Watkins and Wolfe, 57, “exchanged thousands of messages, some encrypted” and “met at secluded spots, including Senate office stairwells, restaurants and her apartment,” Scarborough noted.

The Watkins-Wolfe relationship ended in December 2017, the same month the New York Times hired her.

FBI agents soon after confronted Wolfe about leaking classified information to reporters, Scarborough noted. Wolfe denied the allegations, “despite mounds of two-way messages seized by the FBI. Agents showed him a photo of the couple together.”

The indictment charges Wolfe on three counts of making false statements.

Scarborough noted that “There is strong circumstantial evidence that Wolfe was also the source for a story that said Carter Page, a Trump campaign volunteer, had met with a Russian spy in New York in 2013.” Watkins broke the story for BuzzFeed on April 3, 2017.

Shortly before the FBI moved in, Wolfe wrote an ode to Watkins:

“I’ve watched your career take off even before you ever had a career in journalism,” he said, according to the indictment. “I always tried to give you as much information 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 hallway. 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.”

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