A former FBI attorney is preparing to plead guilty to altering an email used to obtain a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, producing the first concrete results of a review Attorney General William Barr ordered into the FBI’s handling of the investigation into contacts between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
The former FBI attorney, Kevin Clinesmith, will plead to a single felony count of making a false statement, though his lawyer said it was not his intent to mislead the court that approved the original warrant in 2016 and three renewals in 2017.
“Kevin deeply regrets having altered the email. It was never his intent to mislead the court or his colleagues as he believed the information he relayed was accurate,” Clinesmith’s lawyer Justin Shur said in a statement. “But Kevin understands what he did was wrong and accepts responsibility.”
The altered email was among the explosive findings in Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review of the FBI’s handling of the surveillance warrant against Page. He also found the warrant and three renewals were riddled with errors and omissions, some of them significant.
The findings led the Justice Department to rescind two of the renewal warrants, though Horowitz did not ultimately conclude that the FBI lacked a basis to surveil Page altogether.
The formal criminal charge — a five-page document detailing Clinesmith’s offense filed in Washington D.C.’s federal district court on Friday — does not suggest a broader conspiracy to take down or damage Trump. It is likely however, to fuel the president’s allegations that the FBI abused its power to spy on his campaign and damage him after the election.
Trump blasted Clinesmith at the outset of a Friday press conference, calling him “a corrupt FBI attorney.”
“So that’s just the beginning, I would imagine because what happened should never happen again,” Trump said.
Trump has called for widespread prosecutions of those in the FBI and intelligence community he perceives as his political enemies, contending that the entire investigation of his campaign’s contacts with Russia was a “witch hunt” against him. Horowitz’s probe, despite its findings of wrongdoing by Clinesmith and problems with the FISA applications, concluded that the FBI had a legitimate basis to investigate the campaign’s contacts with Russia.
In an unusual statement issued at the time Horowitz released his report, Barr and U.S. attorney for Connecticut John Durham — whom Barr tapped to lead an unusual review of the Russia probe — indicated they disagreed with some of the inspector general’s conclusions. Trump has urged Barr and Durham to investigate former president Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden, but Barr has indicated the probe will not reach them.
Trump has been almost uniformly supportive of Barr in public, but in an interview this week, the president hinted at some concern that the attorney general was being too timid in targeting those Trump views as responsible for the Russia investigation.
“Bill Barr has the chance to be the greatest of all time, but if he wants to be politically correct, he’ll be just another guy, because he knows all the answers, he knows what they have, and it goes right to Obama and it goes right to Biden,” Trump told Fox News.
Barr did foreshadow the Clinesmith plea during a Fox News appearance late Thursday, indicating that a development — one the attorney general described as not particularly major — was forthcoming in Durham’s ongoing review of the Trump-Russia investigation.
In their explanation of the allegations against Clinesmith, prosecutors indicated that Clinesmith altered a June 2017 email that was used in one of the Page surveillance renewals. The alteration followed a discussion with colleagues about whether Page had a history as a CIA source.
Clinesmith, in internal messages, indicated that he believed Page was a “subsource” but never a source, and when a superior asked if he had it in writing, Clinesmith forwarded an email from a CIA liaison but added his own words to it to underscore his view that Page was “not a source.”
“Relying on the altered email, [the supervisory FBI agent] signed and submitted the application to the court on June 29, 2017,” prosecutors said.
Clinesmith was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe after Horowitz discovered internal messages that revealed he espoused anti-Trump sentiment. Mueller also removed FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page after discovering similarly anti-Trump messages, though all officials have argued their personal political views did not influence their investigative decisions.
Among the messages Horowitz uncovered was one sent the day after Trump’s election in 2016:
“Who knows if the rhetoric about deporting people, walls, and crap is true. I honestly feel like there is going to be a lot more gun issues, too, the crazies won finally,” Clinesmith wrote. “This is the tea party on steroids. And the GOP is going to be lost, they have to deal with an incumbent in 4 years. We have to fight this again. Also Pence is stupid.”
Two weeks later, when a colleague asked Clinesmith about whether he was rethinking his commitment to serving in the Trump administration, Clinesmith replied “Hell no” and added “Viva le resistance.”
The felony false-statement charge Clinesmith is set to plead guilty to carries a maximum possible punishment of five years in prison. However, defendants typically get shorter sentences in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines and many who plead guilty to a false-statement charge receive no prison time.
Clinesmith’s case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg, an Obama appointee.
Court records show the case is being prosecuted by Durham as well as an assistant U.S. attorney from Durham’s Connecticut office, Neeraj Patel, along with Washington-based Assistant U.S. Attorney, Anthony Scarpelli.