Former FBI Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Altering Email in Russia Probe

An American flag flies outside the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty on Wednesday to making a false statement in an email related to an application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the early stages of the Russia investigation. 

While Clinesmith could face up to five years in prison for the criminal charge, federal sentencing guidelines recommend a range of zero to six months of jail time.

During a teleconference hearing in Washington, he admitted to doctoring an email the FBI relied on in a 2017 application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the warrant to wiretap Page.

Investigators on the Crossfire Hurricane team — which preceded the investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller — had secured a warrant to surveil Page three times in 2017 before Clinesmith altered the email backing up the fourth renewal. 

The former FBI lawyer is the first person to face criminal charges brought by John Durham, a federal prosecutor tapped by Attorney General William Barr last year to look into the origins of the Russia investigation. 

A long pause followed after U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg asked the defendant if he admitted to intentionally altering the email to say that Page, who was previously a CIA source, was “not a source.” 

“Sir, at the time I believed that the information I was providing in the email was accurate. But I am agreeing that the information I inserted into the email was not originally there and that I inserted that information,” Clinesmith said. 

Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz was the first to uncover Clinesmith’s actions, in a report released last year outlining a total of 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” across the four applications to surveil Page. 

But Horowitz ultimately did not find that the FISA application errors undermined the validity of investigating the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia. 

At the outset of the plea hearing, Boasberg offered both parties the opportunity to request that he recuse himself from the case. In January, the Obama appointee began presiding over the court that approved the warrant to surveil Page in 2017. 

“While I did not sign any of the four applications that are at issue here, I could see that the FISC itself could be perceived as a victim of false statements,” Boasberg said. 

The judge added that he did not believe his role on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court precluded being able to fairly preside over the case before him on Wednesday. 

Both the government and Clinesmith’s attorneys agreed, declining to request that Boasberg recuse himself. 

Clinesmith’s lawyer Justin Shur said last week that his client deeply regrets having altered the email related to the warrant. 

“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,” Shur said in a statement Friday. 

President Donald Trump said last week that Clinesmith’s prosecution is “just the beginning,” although court documents filed by the Justice Department make no claims of the defendant being involved in a larger conspiracy to undermine the president’s 2016 campaign. 

Clinesmith is set to be sentenced in Washington federal court on Dec. 10.

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