NEW YORK—PEN America applauds today’s decision by U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to reject prosecutors’ request for an upward departure from sentencing guidelines in the criminal case of former Senate Intelligence Committee aide James A. Wolfe.

This past October, Wolfe pled guilty to lying to the FBI about using an encrypted messaging app to disclose unclassified but non-public information to a journalist, relating to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant obtained on Trump campaign policy adviser Carter Page. Although federal prosecutors did not produce any evidence indicating that Wolfe disclosed classified information, prosecutors asked the judge for a two-year prison term, more than four times greater than federal sentencing guidelines. The government argued that this departure was justified because Wolfe had cultivated relationships with reporters and repeatedly disclosed nonpublic unclassified national security information to reporters, an argument that the judge appeared to reject when determining Wolfe’s sentence.

“The way in which the government handled this case was troubling, as it sent a message to journalists that disclosure of even non-classified information is criminal,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs. “The District Court was right to reject the prosecution’s request for extra prison time, a sentencing decision that highlights it is not a crime for government officials to maintain relationships with reporters for purposes of providing the public access to information.”

In 2015, PEN America published Secret Sources:  Whistleblowers, National Security, and Free Expressionout of concern over the Obama administration’s dramatic escalation of whistleblower prosecution. These trends have continued under the Trump administration, and where such cases present threats to government whistleblowers who disclose non-classified information, PEN America advocates for more thoughtful protections for those officials who wish to expose government wrongdoing to minimize how these measures prevent journalists from doing their job.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: