A former FBI attorney has pleaded guilty to making a false statement in the first criminal case that emerged from an investigation into the investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign, his attorney said Friday.
Kevin Clinesmith is accused of changing an email about the government about a former Trump campaign adviser who was a target of secret FBI surveillance, according to documents submitted to the federal court in Washington. His lawyer, Justin Shur, told the Associated Press that Clinesmith intends to plead guilty to the only false statement and that he regrets his actions.
The case against Clinesmith was sparked by Donald Trump and his supporters as they look into the investigation, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, to lift Trump’s re-election prospects and explain what they see as crimes when the FBI opens Russia investigation.
“The fact is that they were spying on my campaign and that they were caught,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday, while his campaign referred to “the biggest crime in American history” in a statement.
However, the five-page indictment is limited in scope and does not restrict criminal crimes by anyone other than Clinesmith, nor does it provide evidence to support Trump’s claims that the Russia investigation was tainted by widespread political bias within the FBI. It makes clear that the FBI relied on Clinesmith’s own misrepresentations as it sought to renew its oversight of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
The Durham inquiry has caused concern among Democrats, who see it as a politically charged exercise intended to legitimize an already closed inquiry. They are worried that recent public reports released so close to the 2020 elections could be time to influence the November vote.
Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, had no comment, a spokesman said. It remains unclear what additional costs, if any, Durham may incur.
Durham’s work parallels in some respects a separate investigation into Russia’s investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s Office. That agency concluded in a report last December that the investigation was opened for a valid reason, but it also identified significant errors and omissions in oversight applications submitted in 2016 and 2017 that focused on Page.
The Watchdog Office also referred Clinesmith for possible prosecution. Specifically, the inspector general accused Clinesmith, though not by name, of changing an email saying that Page was “not a source” for another government agency.
Page has publicly stated that he was a CIA source. According to the Inspector General’s report and Friday’s upload documents, Clinesmith received information in June 2017 from another government agency, presumably the CIA, which showed that Page was approved as an “operational contact” between 2008 and 2013.
But when an FBI colleague followed up by direct message on the question of whether Page had ever been a government source, Clinesmith replied that Page “had never been a source,” according to court documents. When asked if he had this information in writing, claiming the documents, Clinesmith changed an email he had received from the other agency by adding the words “and not a source” and then forward.
The FBI relied on those misrepresentations in its definitive application for surveillance and denied that information about Page, prosecutors claim, even though any relationship between Page and the government should be important to disclose.
Clinesmith told the Inspector General that he did not actually understand Page to be a source, or “recruited asset,” for another government agency.
“Kevin is deeply sorry that he changed the email,” Shur said. “It was never his intention to mislead the court or his colleagues because he believed the information he passed on was accurate, but Kevin understands what he did wrong and accepts responsibility.”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham just weeks after Attorney General Robert Mueller closed his nearly two-year investigation.
Mueller found key contacts during the 2016 campaign between Russians and Trump aides, but did not advocate criminal conspiracy between them. He also investigated several episodes in which Trump tried to influence or limit the Russia investigation, but he did not come to a conclusion about whether Trump had obstructed justice.
Barr quickly signaled his skepticism about the Russia investigation, concluding that Trump had not obstructed justice, although Mueller had unfortunately unresolved this question.