Ex-FBI Attorney Kevin Clinesmith avoids jail after admitting to doctoring emails in Trump campaign investigation

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg said Clinesmith’s behavior had undermined the integrity of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved the FBI’s flawed requests to monitor Page. “Courts across the country trust government representations and expect them to be accurate,” Boasberg said.

But Boasberg also said he agreed with an earlier statement by the Justice Department inspector general that Clinesmith and other FBI officials’ actions were not motivated by political bias, and he believed Clinesmith’s claim that he really, but incorrectly, believed the information he entered in the e-mail. the mail message was correct. In addition to his criminal conviction, Boasberg ordered Clinesmith to perform 400 hours of community service.

The case against Clinesmith is the first and only criminal indictment stemming from US lawyer John Durham’s investigation of the FBI’s Russia case, and it has become a political lightning rod.

Clinesmith’s lawyers have argued that his modification of the email was a mistake that would save time for Clinesmith and personal embarrassment. But former President Donald Trump and his political allies have highlighted the case as part of their accusations that the agency was biased and tried to undermine Trump with the investigation that investigated possible ties between Russia and his campaign. The case was eventually taken over by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Clinesmith said in a lengthy court statement that he took “full responsibility” for what he called “due process.”

“I betrayed the FBI, the Department of Justice, my colleagues, the public and my family. I also failed, ”he said, adding later,“ Do not let my fault reflect on those who continue to serve our country. ”

By arguing that Clinesmith deserved to go to jail, Durham’s team highlighted anti-Trump texts that Clinesmith had sent, claiming that it was “likely that his strong political views and / or personal disapproval of [Trump] made him more willing to engage in the deceptive and unethical behavior he has committed. “Clinesmith was suspended for two weeks due to the announcements.

“Although it is impossible to know for sure how these views may have affected his crime, the defendant has clearly shown that he did not fulfill his important responsibilities at the FBI with the professionalism, integrity and objectivity required for such a sensitive work position. “Prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutor Anthony Scarpelli told the court that Clinesmith’s behavior was “more gross” than George Papadopoulos, whose victim’s remark at a bar in London in May 2016 helped trigger Russia’s investigation and who later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He was sentenced to 14 days in prison.

Federal criminal law guidelines in Clinesmith’s case required a sentence of anywhere from zero to six months’ imprisonment, although the U.S. Board of Appeal recommended a probationary period, according to the lawsuit.

Justin Shur, Clinesmith’s lawyer, argued that the test was appropriate. Clinesmith, he said in court, had otherwise lived a life “in the service of others.” Clinesmith grew up on a farm in Michigan and was the first in his family to go to college, and he was inspired to work in national security after 9/11, Shur wrote in a court. Clinesmith is married and expecting her first child, a son, in March.

Shur wrote that although Clinesmith admitted that he had “made a serious mistake” when he changed the email, he did so and mistakenly thought that the information he added was correct. He claimed that Clinesmith made the move because of the intense stress that came with Russia’s investigation, and because he tried to help his mother when she was treating Alzheimer’s disease.

“Even if there is no satisfactory answer, any explanation must begin with the great pressure he was under then – both at work and in his personal life,” Shur wrote.

The basic facts of the case are not in question, although prosecutors and defense attorneys seem to disagree on what motivated Clinesmith and how unfortunate his actions were. Clinesmith was an FBI attorney who assisted investigators in Russia’s investigation, and in June 2017 he was asked to clarify whether Page was ever a source for the CIA. This was important because the FBI – with the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – had monitored Page as a possible agent for a foreign government and applied for permission to keep that surveillance going.

However, if Page were a CIA source, it would have to be revealed to the court, as it would raise significant questions about whether he could be traced as a possible foreign agent.

Page had provided information to the CIA as an “operational contact,” and when Clinesmith sought clarity, a CIA contact told him just as much, using jargon and pointing to documents that clarified his role. But according to Clinesmith’s lawyers, Clinesmith believed that Page was not a direct source but rather a sub-source for the firm.

He said the same thing to an FBI chief who asked about the case, and – when the chief asked if the CIA had written it – forwarded an email from the contact person, but added the text, “not a” source. “

Testifying at the hearing, Page said he had been harassed on the street and while driving the DC subway, and that he received death threats and was called a “traitor” after his surveillance was announced and he was throw in media reports as a possible Russian asset. However, he said he had no desire to see Clinesmith suffer.

“I know what it’s like to have your life ruined, even if in my case it did not happen because of something I did myself,” Page said.

Shur wrote that Clinesmith really believed that Page had not been a source, and doctored the email as part of a “misguided attempt to save time and the embarrassment of having to go back to his assurance that he had it in writing.” He strongly questioned that Clinesmith had acted animistically towards Trump, noting that Clinesmith had separately sent a copy of the CIA contact’s e-mail to the FBI agent. Shur wrote that Clinesmith had initially resisted surveillance by Page, rejected surveillance by another Trump campaign adviser and opposed the inclusion of an FBI source in the Trump campaign.

“Had Kevin been personally motivated to harm President Trump, he would never have done any of these things,” Shur wrote.

Prosecutors, however, considered Clinesmith’s actions more shameful and advocated a “prison at least between the middle and upper end” sentence of what the sentencing guidelines required. When discussing whether Page was an FBI source with the FBI chief, they wrote, Clinesmith acknowledged that revealing such a fact would be “a terrible footnote”, as it would mean that the FBI had hidden that information in previous applications. They wrote that Clinesmith’s behavior had “driven public distrust of the FBI and the entire FISA program.”

“The act of changing the email to change its meaning may seem simple and a temporary cessation of the defendant’s assessment, but the resulting damage is immeasurable,” Scarpelli said, adding that Clinesmith’s claim that he really believed Page was not a source was “imaginative.”

In the wake of the Justice Department inspector’s general findings on Clinesmith, along with other significant errors in surveillance applications, lawmakers have questioned whether the FBI should retain its authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. During pressure from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, has the agency promised and implemented reforms. Clinesmith apologized in court for imposing that “additional burden” on his former colleagues.

“The court’s ruling should be designed in part to send a powerful message to society that this type of behavior – falsification of information to conceal facts from a court – will not be tolerated,” prosecutors wrote.

Shur said Clinesmith’s career is already “on the move” as he has been unemployed for more than a year and his case has received widespread public attention. Boasberg signaled that he was sympathetic to the costs Clinesmith had already paid, noting that he went from being a public prosecutor without a public profile to “standing in the eyes of a media hurricane.”

Durham’s investigation is ongoing, although it is unclear who beyond Clinesmith, if any, may be exposed to criminal exposure, or what public findings it may ultimately provide. During his final months as Trump’s lawyer, William P. Barr appointed Durham as special counsel, which gives him extra legal and political protection from being relieved of his duties in the Biden administration.

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