An FBI lawyer who worked on the surveillance warrant of former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page plans to plead guilty Friday to making a false statement in an email as part of an investigation into the Russia investigation.
Kevin Clinesmith plans to admit to one charge of altering an email to another official in 2017 that said Page wasn’t a previous government source, when he had been one.
Clinesmith had also been critical of President Donald Trump when he worked for the FBI.
Friday’s charge represents the first public production from the highly anticipated Durham investigation and will likely provide political fodder for Trump amid a storm of negative headlines regarding his management of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Kevin deeply regrets having altered the email,” Clinesmith’s lawyer, Justin Shur, said in a statement Friday. “It was never his intent to mislead the court or his colleagues as he believed the information he relayed was accurate. But Kevin understands what he did was wrong and accepts responsibility.”
Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court in Washington, who also is the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that approved the Page warrants, was assigned to handle Clinesmith’s criminal case on Friday, according to the court record.
Trump kicked off his Friday afternoon briefing with a brief reference to Clinesmith.
“That’s just the beginning… what happened should never happen again. He is pleading guilty, terrible thing, terrible thing. The fact is they spied on my campaign and they got caught and you’ll be hearing more,” Trump said.
However, the court documents laying out the single charge against Clinesmith don’t make any broader allegation of a conspiracy by FBI investigators against Trump, an accusation Trump has frequently made. Instead it shows another FBI official who signed the fourth FISA warrant raising a concern about whether Page was a CIA source and seeking email proof when Clinesmith downplayed the CIA relationship with Page.
The documents also offer a window into the bureaucratic process the CIA – referred to as another government agency in the court record – uses to document its interaction with an American, and the efforts a CIA employee made to ensure there was a record of its history with Page.
Clinesmith was a lower-level FBI attorney working on the early Russian investigation into Page and other Trump-connected advisers, then known at Crossfire Hurricane.
The documentation Clinesmith worked on was intended to back up applications for surveillance of Page in 2016 and 2017, whom the FBI believed was acting as an agent of Russia. Page was never charged with a crime.
The CIA had told the Crossfire Hurricane team in mid 2016 that Page was a contact years earlier providing information on interactions with people associated with Russian intelligence. Investigators secured a warrant to surveil Page, and renewed three times into 2017. On the fourth renewal, Clinesmith changed an email from the CIA saying Page was a source when he forwarded the information to a supervisor. The email Clinesmith changed said Page, who is called Individual #1 in the charging document, was “not a ‘source’,” according to the court papers.
“The defendant had altered the original June 15, 2017, email from the [other government agency] liaison by adding the words ‘and not a source’ to the email, thus making it appear that the [agency] liaison had written in the email that Individual #1 was ‘not a source’,” prosecutors wrote about his charge.
Page investigation revealed email error
Clinesmith’s error over email was first discovered by the Justice Department’s independent inspector general Michael Horowitz last year. Horowitz said in December he had referred the matter for further investigation, and Clinesmith’s handling of the surveillance application became part of US Attorney John Durham’s work in understanding the intelligence and steps taken in the early takes of the Russia investigation.
The inspector general also found highly partisan messages sent by Clinesmith that insulted Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Despite the error, Horowitz did not find that the problems with Clinesmith undermined the overall validity of the surveillance. The Justice Department later decided two renewals of Page’s surveillance were invalid, as Durham continued to look into the early intelligence and approach to the Russia investigation by the FBI and national security officials.