(Adds details of FBI collection of reporters’ messages, lawyer comment)
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, June 13 (Reuters) - Lawyers for a former senior Senate Intelligence committee official accused of lying to the FBI said they expect to ask a federal judge to issue an order banning officials, including President Donald Trump, from making public comments that could prejudice a criminal case pending against their client.
At a hearing before Federal Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson on Wednesday, Preston Burton, a lawyer for former intelligence committee security chief James Wolfe, said officials, including Trump, had already commented on the case.
In a statement later to reporters, Wolfe’s law firm, Buckley Sandler, said that it “likely will be filing soon a motion seeking an Order from the Court prohibiting the government at all levels, including President Trump, from making improper and prejudicial statements regarding the case.”
Defense lawyer Joshua Dratel said that to his knowledge there was no precedent for courts to enjoin people who are not parties before the court from commenting on court proceedings. Dratel added, however, that Wolfe’s lawyers could try to argue that because Trump’s own lawyer declared the president the nation’s top law enforcement officer, Trump might be subject to a court order.
Wolfe, who worked for the Intelligence committee for nearly 30 years, pleaded not guilty at the hearing in federal court to charges he lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about discussions with journalists.
He remains free on his personal recognizance but had to surrender his passport and cannot leave the Washington D.C. area without the approval of authorities.
In an indictment made public last week, federal prosecutors accused Wolfe of lying to the FBI when he claimed that he had not been in contact with any reporter and did not disclose to two journalists information he had learned while working for the committee.
Wolfe is not specifically accused of leaking classified information. But in the indictment, prosecutors allege that after a message exchange with one reporter, the journalist in April 2017 published an article describing how one-time Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had been in contact with a Russian intelligence operative in 2013.
Such an article was published on the BuzzFeed website under the byline of Ali Watkins, now a New York Times reporter. The newspaper reported last week that investigators had secretly seized Watkins’ telephone and email records.
The indictment said that the FBI was also aware of message traffic, including text messages, phone calls and messages over the encrypted Signal app, which Wolfe exchanged with two other journalists.
The Times said Watkins previously had a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe. Both Wolfe and Watkins have denied that Wolfe leaked information to her.
Following Wolfe’s arrest, Trump described Wolfe as a “very important leaker” and said the arrest “could be a terrific thing,” according to news reports. (Reporting by Mark Hosenball Writing by Lisa Lambert Editing by Frances Kerry, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)