Customs Agent In Hot Water For Trying To Get Reporter's Sources

Journalist Ali Watkins also had her records secretly seized by the Justice Department earlier this year.

An agent working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection met with a reporter last year and questioned her about her sources and reporting methods during an unusual dinner, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. That agent, Jeffrey Rambo, is now facing an inquiry from CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Rambo reportedly questioned reporter Ali Watkins, then working for Politico, last June and the two met for a meal. During the encounter, however, he said the Trump administration wanted to investigate journalists’ confidential sources to stop information leaks, sources familiar with the meeting told the Post.

Last week, The New York Times reported that the Justice Department had secretly seized years of Watkins’ phone and email records earlier this year as part of an investigation into leaks of classified information by Jim Wolfe, a former director of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Watkins had a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe that has since ended.

Watkins is now a reporter for the Times, which learned of the seizure last Thursday. She was a reporter for HuffPost in 2014 and 2015.

Wolfe was indicted and arrested the same day on charges of lying to the FBI about the leak investigation.

CBP, however, does not handle leak investigations ― that task usually falls to the FBI. An unnamed source told the Post that Rambo was not part of any investigation into Wolfe, and it’s unclear in what capacity he would have met with Watkins to discuss the case.

Rambo also had a list of trips Wolfe and Watkins had taken together, information that could be protected by privacy laws.

HuffPost has reached out to the agency for comment. A spokesperson told the Post that the allegations in the article had been “immediately referred” to the Office of Professional Responsibility” and that it took “all allegations of employee misconduct seriously.”

The seizure of Watkin’s phone and email records was the first time the Trump administration has publicly gone after a reporter’s data, a move that has troubled press freedom advocates. The Justice Department has guidelines for obtaining information from reporters, but they’re hard to enforce.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had promised to triple leak investigations last year amid a series of embarrassing reports about the Trump White House. And the president himself is a noted foe of the media, recently calling CNN “fake news” and “the worst” during a news conference at the Group of Seven summit in Canada last weekend.