WASHINGTON (CN) — President Trump was ebullient Friday afternoon in announcing the forthcoming guilty plea of a lawyer in, as he put it, “James Comey’s very corrupt FBI.”
“The fact is they spied on my campaign and they got caught,” Trump said at a White House briefing, calling the charges against Kevin Clinesmith, 38, “just the beginning … because what happened should never happen again.”
As detailed in charging papers filed this morning in Washington, Clinesmith was an assistant general counsel for the FBI assigned to support the bureau’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s suspected facilitation of those efforts.
In an apparent reference to Trump campaign aide Carter Page, the indictment notes that the FBI executed a wiretap against Individual #1 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in October 2016, and that three subsequent applications to approve that warrant were approved over the next year.
The FBI cited probable cause that the target “was a knowing agent of a foreign power, specifically Russia,” but Clinesmith’s indictment says the FBI was already informed in August 2016 this individual served as an “operational contact” for an unspecified government agency from 2008 to 2013, and that he had provided the agency with information about his “prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers” to that end.
Robert Mueller had been appointed as special counsel to oversee the investigation by May 2017 when the FBI needed to renew the surveillance warrant of Page for the third time. It was around this time, however, that Page had asserted publicly that he was a CIA source.
Prosecutors say Clinesmith verified Page’s status with a CIA liaison on June 15, 2017, but misrepresented what the liaison told him to incorrectly say that Page was “not a source.”
Falsifying this information allowed the FBI to renew Page’s warrant for the third time on June 29, 2017.
Clinesmith resigned from the FBI last year and is expected to plead guilty to one count of making a false statement.
Justin Shur, an attorney for the lawyer with the firm MoloLamken, did not immediately return a request for comment Friday. Shur told The New York Times, however, that Clinesmith regrets altering the email.
“It was never his intent to mislead the court or his colleagues, as he believed the information he relayed was accurate,” Shur said, “but Kevin understands what he did was wrong and accepts responsibility.”
Clinesmith’s indictment follows a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general, who concluded independently that the FBI made “significant inaccuracies and omissions” across its four applications concerning Page’s surveillance, and that “the Crossfire Hurricane team failed to comply with FBI policies and in doing so fell short of what is rightfully expected from a premier law enforcement agency entrusted with such an intrusive surveillance tool.”
This is the first criminal case to come from a probe of Operation Crossfire Hurricane since U.S. Attorney General William Barr tapped U.S. Attorney John Durham to lead it last year while Democrats opened an impeachment inquiry against Trump.
For Democratic Congressmen Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff, the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, respectively, the Justice Department under Barr has “become a vehicle for President Trump’s political revenge.”
Party leaders contend that scrutiny of the Russia investigation is a naked attempt to sways the 2020 presidential election in Trump’s favor while playing directly into the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign. Although Justice Department policy says prosecutors should not take public actions in the weeks before an election or use investigations to affect an election’s results, Barr has said these rules do not apply in this scenario.
Back in April, Barr told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt he thinks this rule only applies to investigations concerning presidential “candidates or perhaps someone that’s sufficiently close to a candidate,” whereas none of the individuals Durham is examining “are running for president.”
Trump supporters see the case brought against Clinesmith as an exposition into whether the FBI engaged in wrongdoing by investigating whether the Trump campaign and Russia worked together to pull off Trump’s presidential victory in 2016.
Barr appointed Durham, who is the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, after telling members of Congress he believed “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign in 2016. Durham’s office said it had “no further comment” on the Clinesmith matter Friday.
After Trump’s election, the FBI turned over the Crossfire Hurricane investigation to special counsel Robert Mueller report. Mueller’s report of the probe in April 2019 failed to allege a criminal conspiracy but did find that Trump’s campaign had contact with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
Mueller by his own words he “did not establish that members of Trump’s campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government,” although there has been debate about what those words mean.
The Mueller report did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice while attempting to stop the 2016 Russia probe.