A government official who altered an email in order to continue the FBI’s spying on a member of the 2016 Trump campaign received only probation and community service for his crime, a stark reminder that people in government are rarely, if ever, held accountable for the destruction they cause to others.
Former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to 12 months probation and 400 hours of community service for altering an email from an FBI agent that stated former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had been a source for the CIA, Politico reported. Clinesmith altered the email to say Page was “not a source” for the CIA, which helped the FBI continue its surveillance of Page.
Clinesmith’s attorney’s argued that he genuinely believed that what he was altering the email to say was true, and he simply wanted to save himself the additional work of reaching out to the CIA for an email. U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg – an Obama nominee – sided with Clinesmith’s defense.
“My view of the evidence is that Mr. Clinesmith likely believed that what he said about Mr. Page was true,” Boasberg said, according to Politico. “By altering the email, he was saving himself some work and taking an inappropriate shortcut.”
Had Clinesmith followed through, however, Page would have been confirmed as a former CIA asset and nearly all of the FBI’s reasoning for spying on him would have been negated.
When the Department of Justice’s Inspector General investigated the four FISA warrants against Page, it found 17 “inaccuracies and omissions,” including Clinesmith’s:
Omitted Page’s prior relationship with another U.S. government agency, despite being reminded by the other agency in June 2017, prior to the filing of the final renewal application, about Page’s past status with that other agency; instead of including this information in the final renewal application, the FBI OGC [Office of the General Counsel] Attorney altered an email from the other agency so that the email stated that Page was “not a source” for the other agency, which the FBI affiant relied upon in signing the final renewal application
U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was appointed by former Attorney General William Barr to investigate the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe, has so far only charged Clinesmith with a crime. Clinesmith pleaded guilty to felony false statement as part of a plea deal last summer with Durham.
“Prosecutors argued that Clinesmith’s misconduct was so serious that he deserved between about three and six months in prison. Clinesmith’s lawyers asked that he not receive any prison time. The maximum sentence on the false statement charge is five years in prison, although judges usually sentence in accord with federal guidelines that called for Clinesmith to serve between zero and six months in prison,” Politico reported.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Scarpelli said Clinesmith’s “criminal conduct tarnished and undermined the integrity of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] program,” Politico added.
“It has lasting effects on DOJ, the FBI, the FISC, the FISA process and trust and confidence United States citizens have in their government…The resulting harm is immeasurable,” Scarpelli continued.
Clinesmith’s attorney argued that his actions played a minor role in the surveillance process against Page, who has received death threats and years of negative media attention for the FBI’s ultimately fruitless surveillance.
It should also be noted that Judge Boasberg sat on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court that granted the numerous warrants against Page. He is now the presiding judge of that court.
In response to the ruling, Page provided a statement to The Daily Wire:
Although this was only the first FISA abuse case, I was very encouraged that the court nevertheless recognized the fundamental importance of integrity in the U.S. foreign intelligence surveillance system more generally. Despite the very narrow focus of this one charged offense and guilty plea, there is still a great deal of work that’s left to do in restoring confidence in the FISA system.