A former FBI lawyer plans to plead guilty to making a false statement in the first criminal case arising from an inquiry into the investigation of ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign, his lawyer said Friday.
Kevin Clinesmith is accused of altering a government email about a former Trump campaign adviser who was a target of secret FBI surveillance, according to documents filed in Washington’s federal court. His lawyer, Justin Shur, told the Associated Press that Clinesmith intends to plead guilty to the single false statement count and that he regrets his actions.
The case against Clinesmith was cheered by Donald Trump and his supporters as they look to the investigation, led by the US attorney John Durham, to lift Trump’s re-election prospects and to expose what they see as wrongdoing as the FBI opened the Russia investigation.
“The fact is they spied on my campaign and they got caught,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday, while his campaign referred to “the greatest crime in American history” in a statement.
Yet the five-page charging document is limited in scope and does not allege criminal wrongdoing by anyone other than Clinesmith, nor does it offer evidence to support Trump’s assertions that the Russia investigation was tainted by widespread political bias in the FBI. It makes clear that the FBI relied on Clinesmith’s own misrepresentations as it sought to renew its surveillance of the former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
The Durham investigation has caused concern among Democrats, who view it as a politically charged exercise meant to relitigate an already closed investigation. They fear that charges or public reports issued so close to the 2020 election could be timed to affect November’s vote.
Durham, the US attorney for Connecticut, had no comment, a spokesman said. It remains unclear what additional charges, if any, Durham might bring.
Durham’s work parallels in some respects a separate investigation into the Russia investigation by the justice department’s inspector general office. That office concluded in a report last December that the investigation was opened for a valid reason, but it also identified significant errors and omissions in surveillance applications filed in 2016 and 2017 that targeted Page.
The watchdog office also referred Clinesmith for potential prosecution. Specifically, the inspector general accused Clinesmith, though not by name, of altering an email to say that Page was “not a source” for another government agency.
Page has stated publicly that he was a CIA source. According to the inspector general’s report and Friday’s charging documents, Clinesmith received information in June 2017 from another government agency, presumably the CIA, showing that Page had been approved as an “operational contact” between 2008 and 2013.
But when an FBI colleague followed up by instant message on the question of whether Page had ever been a government source, Clinesmith responded that Page had “never been a source”, according to court documents. When asked if he had that information in writing, the documents allege, Clinesmith altered an email he had received from the other agency by adding the words “and not a source” and then forwarded it.
The FBI relied on those misrepresentations in its final surveillance application and omitted that information about Page, prosecutors allege, even though any relationship between Page and the government would have been important to disclose.
Clinesmith told the inspector general that he had not actually understood Page to be a source, or “recruited asset”, for another government agency.
“Kevin deeply regrets having altered the email,” Shur said. “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.”
William Barr, the US attorney general, appointed Durham just weeks after the special counsel Robert Mueller concluded his nearly two-year investigation.
Mueller found significant contacts during the 2016 campaign between Russians and Trump associates but did not allege a criminal conspiracy between them. He also examined multiple episodes in which Trump sought to affect or thwart the Russia investigation, but he did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice.
Barr quickly signaled his skepticism about the Russia investigation, concluding that Trump had not obstructed justice even though Mueller had pointedly left that question unresolved.