The New York Times published a damaging feature about its own reporter, revealing new details of Ali Watkins’ affair with former Senate Intelligence Committee aide James A. Wolfe in addition to the bombshell that she dated another Intelligence Committee staffer.
Earlier this month, a shock indictment revealed that prior to joining the Times, Watkins, 26, had a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe, 58, who was accused by federal prosecutors of lying about leaks of sensitive information to journalists. The indictment strongly suggested he was a source for Watkins and others, though Watkins reportedly has denied using her relationship for scoops.
The New York Times has since announced it is investigating Watkins’ conduct. But, in the meantime, it published a scathing report that strongly implies Watkins rose to journalistic fame while using her married boyfriend as a source.
The Times report hit the web Sunday night headlined, “How an Affair Between a Reporter and a Security Aide Has Rattled Washington Media,” and featured interviews with roughly 36 “friends and colleagues” of the scandalous former couple. Watkins carried on a three-year relationship with Wolfe, who is 30 years her senior and has been overseeing classified information delivered by the CIA and FBI since “before Watkins was born,” as the paper points out.
“Avoiding conflicts of interest is a basic tenet of journalism, and intimate involvement with a source is considered verboten,” the Times reported while strongly implying Watkins used Wolfe as a source. But the shocking Times report also reveals that Watkins dated another staff member at the committee after her relationship with Wolfe concluded.
Some observers say the Times is now in a very difficult place, as the Gray Lady can’t separate from Watkins without appearing sexist, but its own reporting strongly indicates she used romantic relationships to land sensitive information used in her reporting.
It now appears that Watkins, who has covered national security for McClatchy, HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Politico and The New York Times had intimate involvement with at least two potential sources. The Times even noted that Watkins once told friends she “wanted off the beat,” but “her editors were eager for scoops.”
“Times officials are currently examining her work history and what influence the relationship may have had on her reporting,” according to the report.
"Last fall, after Ms. Watkins and Mr. Wolfe had broken up and while she was still reporting on the intelligence committee for Politico, she briefly dated another staff member at the committee, friends said. That relationship, which has not been previously reported, ended when the two decided not to pursue something more serious," the Times wrote.
Conservative commentator Louise Mensch tweeted that the second relationship "looks terrible," adding "No way to wash it.”
Mensch accused Watkins' past employers of “prostituting her out for information,” before turning her criticism to the Times directly, saying it’s “SO sexist” that the paper is “implying that young girl journalists regularly put out for stories.”
Mensch pointed out that “very few men date significantly older women who are much more powerful than they are,” and noted the following section of the Times report: "Their relationship played out in the insular world of Washington, where young, ambitious journalists compete for scoops while navigating relationships with powerful, often older, sources."
The Times did not respond when asked by Fox News about Mensch’s sexism claim.
“Relationships between reporters and sources are an art, not a science: In Washington, meals and late nights out with sources are part of a journalist’s job description. But becoming romantically involved is widely viewed as a conflict, opening a journalist to accusations of bias,” the Times also wrote.
Sexist or not, the Times and other employers were seemingly aware Watkins was in an intimate relationship with a potential source, but were satisfied when she promised he wasn’t leaking her information during pillow talk – which is frowned upon in the journalism world.
"Ms. Watkins disclosed her relationship with Mr. Wolfe to her employers in varying degrees of detail — sometimes citing Mr. Wolfe’s name and position, and sometimes not — while asserting that she had not used him as a source during their relationship," the Times wrote.
The Times also uncovered that Wolfe was accused of assault by his first wife, who once claimed he threatened her verbally in addition to a series of alleged violent incidents that included pushing, shoving, strangling, pulling her hair, spitting in her face and breaking into her home.
“The charges were later dropped by prosecutors,” the Times reported, adding, “If any serious charges had been successfully prosecuted, Mr. Wolfe might have lost his security clearance.”
Wolfe’s lawyer denied all physical abuse.
Watkins received a letter in February notifying her that the Justice Department obtained her records, but the star reporter did not inform the Times until June — at the advice of her lawyer, according to the paper.
Wolfe, who was indicted this month on three counts of lying to FBI agents and accused of leaking information to the media, pleaded not guilty in front of a federal magistrate judge in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
Wolfe and Watkins communicated numerous times before and after the publication of a significant story by Watkins on former Trump aide Carter Page's past contact with a Russian operative.
Watkins is out on what the Times has called a pre-planned vacation. The Times did not respond when asked if she is available for comment.
Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly contributed to this report.