Reporter denies swapping ‘sex for secrets’
HOUSE of Cards fans might find this story all too familiar - leveraging a sexual relationship to land scoops and promotions.
A young New York Times reporter Ali Watkins and self-confessed fan of the political drama, is under scrutiny over the first known leak investigation of the Trump administration.
The Times is investigating her activities - and she stands accused by President Donald Trump's allies of swapping sex for secrets while being used by a much older man to advance an anti-Trump agenda, The Australianreports.
Back in April 2013, Watkins posted a tweet saying: "I wanted to be Zoe Barnes … until episode 4. Sleeping with your source …#badlifechoice"
Referencing the show, where the protagonist Zoe Barnes embarks on an affair with a powerful congressman and uses their romantic relationship to get stories and in turn, a quick rise to the top.
She later questioned whether the character's sleeping with sources to obtain story ideas was ethical, asking her followers to weigh in.
"So on a scale of 1 to ethical, how does everyone feel about pulling a @RealZoeBarnes for story ideas? #Totally kidding @HouseofCards."
Watkins, who enjoyed meteoric rise through Washington's journalism ranks back when she was still in college, hasn't been charged in the Justice Department's investigation.
But the revelation that the FBI had secretly seized years' worth of Watkins' phone and email records, raised questions about her relationship with the man at the centre of the investigation - former intelligence committee aide James Wolfe.
The news of the seizure of Watkins' records surfaced when Wolfe, 57, was arrested and charged with lying to investigators about his contacts with three reporters, including Watkins, who is now 26.
Wolfe's case is the first known instance of the Justice Department seizing a reporter's data under the Trump administration.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Wolfe pleaded not guilty on three counts of lying to FBI agents working on a leak investigation on Wednesday. He has not been charged with unlawfully disclosing classified information.
Mr Trump had said the arrest of Wolfe "could be a terrific thing," and stressed that "you cannot leak classified information". Trump supporters have accused the pair of trading sex and secrets to spread anti-Trump stories.
After Wolfe's arrest, fans went back to the Watkins' tweet to respond, with some posting pictures of Wolfe.
Watkins and Wolfe had an extended personal relationship that ended last year.
Watkins joined the Times in December, after her relationship with Wolfe had ended. She told the paper about the relationship when she was hired, according to the Times. She has said that Wolfe did not provide her with information during the course of their relationship.
Wolfe was one of the highest-ranking aides on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Watkins covered extensively at Politico, BuzzFeed News, The Huffington Post and the McClatchy, where she started as an intern in 2013.
Watkins received a letter in February from the Justice Department informing her it had obtained her records. She consulted her lawyer about the letter at the time and on his advice did not tell The Times about it until late last week.
Watkins is set to go on leave on a previously planned holiday, said Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman.