Chairman Richard Burr, right, Sen. Joe Manchin, center, and ranking member Sen. Mark Warner, arrive for Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty

The Justice Department announced late Thursday that a former employee of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has been accused and arrested for lying to FBI special agents about his ongoing communications with three reporters by way of encrypted messaging applications. According to authorities, he also made false statements about providing two reporters with sensitive information related to the committee’s work.

The details: A federal grand jury indicted the longtime director, James Wolfe, on three counts of making fraudulent statements to authorities in the midst of an investigation into an unlawful disclosure of classified information while he was the director of security for the SSCI — a position he held for almost 30 years.

“As alleged in this indictment, Mr. Wolfe failed to meet those standards in his repeated lies to federal agents concerning the unauthorized disclosure of information.  His arrest demonstrates that this conduct will not be tolerated, and those that engage in it will be held accountable.”
— Special Agent in Charge Dunham in a press release

The intrigue: Arresting a member of SSCI while the committee is investigating matters of the Russia probe is unusual, and could have an affect on committee staff conducting the inquiry. Just one day prior, it was reported that special counsel Robert Mueller had requested that some witnesses in his investigation turn in their cellphones so his team can look at their encrypted messaging apps including WhatsApp, Confide, Signal and Dust.

The announcement follows shortly after the New York Times published a report about prosecutors secretly seizing "years' worth" of one of its reporter's phone and email records.

  • "Investigators sought [Ali] Watkins' (the NYT reporter) information as part of an inquiry into whether James A. Wolfe... disclosed classified secrets to reporters. F.B.I. agents approached Ms. Watkins about a previous three-year romantic relationship she had with Mr. Wolfe, saying they were investigating unauthorized leaks," explains the Times.
  • FBI agents had reportedly asserted that Wolfe had assisted her with articles during their relationship. The Times adds that Watkins said Wolfe wasn't a source of hers to obtain classified information. The records seized date back to her time working at Politico and BuzzFeed, and are associated with her undergraduate university email.

Timing: Wolfe's indictment comes on the heels of the Senate having quietly approved that the committee cooperate with the Department of Justice about an "investigation arising out of allegations of the unauthorized disclosure of information."

What's next: Wolfe is expected to make an appearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on Friday.

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In pictures: Storm Zeta churns inland after lashing Louisiana

Debris on the streets as then-Hurricane Zeta passes over in Arabi, Louisiana, on Oct. 28. It's the third hurricane to hit Louisiana in about two months, after Laura and Delta. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Zeta has killed at least two people, triggered flooding, downed powerlines and caused widespread outages since making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane on Wednesday.

The big picture: A record 11 named storms have made landfall in the U.S. this year. Zeta is the fifth named storm to do so in Louisiana in 2020, the most ever recorded. It weakened t0 a tropical storm early Thursday, as it continued to lash parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle with heavy rains and strong winds.

3 hours ago - World

Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases

Catholics go through containment protocols including body-temperature measurement and hands-sanitisation before entering the Saint Christopher Parish Church, Taipei City, Taiwan, in July. Photo: Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Taiwan on Thursday marked no locally transmitted coronavirus cases for 200 days, as the island of 23 million people's total number of infections reported stands at 550 and the COVID-19 death toll at seven.

Why it matters: Nowhere else has reached such a milestone. While COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S. and Europe, Taiwan's last locally transmitted case was on April 12. Experts credit tightly regulated travel, early border closure, "rigorous contact tracing, technology-enforced quarantine and universal mask wearing" and the island state's previous experience with the SARS virus for the achievement, per Bloomberg.

Go deeper: As Taiwan's profile rises, so does risk of conflict with China

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