FBI Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Altering Document Used in Spy Operation Against Trump, Faces Up to 5 Years in Prison

By Michael W. Chapman | August 19, 2020 | 3:50pm EDT
Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith.  (Department of Justice)
Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith. (Department of Justice)

(CNS News) -- Special Attorney John H. Durham, who is investigating the FBI's 2016-17 spying operation against the Trump campaign, announced that former top FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, 38, pleaded guilty today to altering a document that was then used to obtain a secret FISA application and warrant to spy on a person working for the Trump campaign.

"Clinesmith pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement within both the jurisdiction of the executive branch and judicial branch of the U.S. government, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000," said the Department of Justice in a press release.   Clinesmith's sentencing is scheduled for December 10, 2020.

Former FBI Director James Comey, left, and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.  (Getty Images)
Former FBI Director James Comey, left, and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. (Getty Images)

Clinesmith worked full-time at the FBI as an Assistant General Counsel in the National Security and Cyber Law Branch of the FBI's Office of General Counsel from July 12, 2015 to Sept. 21, 2019.  At the time and until May 9, 2017, James Comey was director of the FBI. 

The FBI launched its operation Crossfire Hurricane on July 31, 2016. The operation was designed to determine "whether individuals associated with the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign were coordinating activities with the Russian government," said the DOJ. "By August 16, 2016, the FBI had opened cases under the Crossfire Hurricane umbrella on four individuals, including an individual identified in this case as 'Individual #1.'"

Individual 1 reportedly is then-Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and the Other Government Agency (OGA) he sometimes assisted reportedly is the CIA, according to The New York Times

U.S. Special Attorney John H. Durham. (DOJ)
U.S. Special Attorney John H. Durham. (DOJ)

It was FBI attorney Clinesmith's job to check information and provide legal guidance to FBI officials who were working in Crossfire Hurricane and obtaining warrants from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to spy on individuals. Clinesmith helped to prepare the FISA applications.

"During the investigation, there were a total of four court-approved FISA applications targeting Individual #1," said the DOJ.  "Each of the FISA applications alleged there was probable cause that Individual #1 was a knowing agent of a foreign power, specifically Russia."

The four FISA applications were submitted as follows: One on Oct. 21, 2016; one on Jan. 12, 2017; one on April 7, 2017, and a final one on June 29, 2017.

However, in August 2016, "prior to the approval of the first FISA application," the OGA (presumably CIA) sent a memorandum to members of Crossfire Hurricane stating that Carter Page had been an “operational contact” for them from 2008 to 2013.

Attorney General William P. Barr.  (Getty Images)
Attorney General William P. Barr. (Getty Images)

But that information was not included in the first three FISA applications, reported the DOJ. The applications "did not include Individual #1’s (Carter Page's) history or status with the OGA."

In addition, "prior to the submission of the fourth FISA application, and after Individual #1 stated publicly that he/she had assisted the U.S. government in the past,  an FBI Supervisory Special Agent (“SSA”) asked Clinesmith to inquire with the OGA as to whether Individual #1 had ever been a 'source' for the OGA," said the DOJ.  

Subsequently, on June 15, 2017, FBI lawyer Clinesmith asked the OGA whether Carter Page had ever been a source for them. That same day, an official at the OGA (CIA) emailed Clinesmith with a list of documents, which referenced the August 17, 2016 Memorandum to the Crossfire Hurricane team. The OGA official also wrote in his email to Clinesmith the following,

"the [digraph] to show that the encrypted individual is a [U.S. person]. We encrypt the [U.S. persons] when they provide reporting to us. My recollection is that [Individual # 1] was or is ... [digraph] but the [documents] will explain the details. If you need a formal definition for the FISA, please let me know and we'll work up some language and get it cleared for use."

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Despite that information, FBI Counsel Kevin Clinesmith, "from his office in the Hoover Building, forwarded the OGA Liaison's June 15, 2017 email to the SSA with alterations that the defendant [Clinesmith] had made" so that the OGA Liaison's email read as follows,

"My recollection is that [Individual # 1] was or is '[digraph]' and not a 'source' but the [documents] will explain the details. If you need a formal definition for the FISA, please let me know and we'll work up some language and get it cleared for use."

Clinesmith's alterations made it appear that the OGA had said that Individual #1 was "not a source," which was not true. 

"Relying on the altered email, the SSA signed and submitted the [FISA] application to the Court on June 29, 2017," stated the DOJ. "The application for FISA #4 did not include Individual #1's history or status with the OGA."

The email was altered and Individual #1's work with the CIA was not mentioned. Clinesmith has now pleaded guilty to making that change in the email. He faces up to five years imprisonment and a fine up to $250,000.  

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

According to the June 2018 OIG report on FBI actions in advance of the 2016 election, Clinesmith made anti-Trump remarks in texts to another FBI lawyer, Sally Moyer. 

“I’m just devastated,” Clinesmith texted to Moyer after Trump won the 2016 election. “Plus, my god damned name is all over the legal documents investigating his staff."

Moyer later texted to Clinesmith, “Is it making you rethink your commitment to the Trump administration?” 

“Hell no,” said Clinesmith. “Viva le resistance.”  (The proper spelling is Vive la resistance.)

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