Prosecutors Call for 6 Months in Prison for Former FBI Agent Who Altered Russia Probe Email

December 4, 2020 Updated: December 7, 2020

U.S. prosecutors on Dec. 3 called for up to a six-month prison term for former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty to falsifying an email that was relied upon to renew surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page amid the Russia investigation.

Clinesmith, 38, pleaded guilty on Aug. 19 to one count of making a false statement and was charged as part of U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the 2016 probe of Russian election interference and alleged ties to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The offense carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.

The former FBI lawyer conceded that he had falsified the email he received, which was used to support an application to renew surveillance of Carter Page, by adding the words “not a source,” for the Central Intelligence Agency, and then forwarded the email to the FBI, even though the original email indicated otherwise.

The CIA had earlier told investigators in a memo that Page was an “operational contact” for the agency from 2008 to 2013 and provided information about his contacts with Russian intelligence officers.

An FBI agent then used the altered email to convince a judge that the bureau’s surveillance of Page must continue. The FBI conducted electronic and physical surveillance of Page from October 2016 through September 2017.

Clinesmith said he thought at the time he was inserting truthful information, however in a 48-page sentencing memorandum (pdf) filed Thursday, the former FBI lawyer’s attorneys said he knew the original email did not contain those additional words.

“Kevin Clinesmith made a grievous mistake. By altering a colleague’s email, he cut a corner in a job that required far better of him. He failed to live up to the FBI’s and his own high standards of conduct. And he committed a crime,” his attorneys said.

“Kevin pled guilty and accepts full responsibility. He deeply regrets his conduct and apologizes to all those who have been affected—including his former colleagues, the FBI, the DOJ, the Court, the public, and his family.”

Clinesmith asked prosecutors to spare him a prison sentence, acknowledging he had committed a crime but did not mean to mislead investigators. His attorneys are asking a federal judge to sentence him to probation.

The sentencing range for Clinesmith is 0–6 months in prison but in their own sentencing memorandum, Durham and his prosecutors requested a sentence between the middle and high end of those guidelines.

“In this case, the defendant’s offense was a very serious one with significant repercussions. The defendant altered an email that misled an FBI supervisory special agent and caused the supervisory special agent to sign a FISA application that failed to disclose that Individual #1 had been a source of another government agency—a fact that bore on whether the individual was acting as a knowing agent of a foreign power,” Durham’s team wrote.

“By inserting the words ‘not a source’  into the [Office of Global Affairs (OGA)] Liaison’s email, the defendant fabricated support for the false notion that Individual # 1 had not acted as a source for the OGA … The resulting failure to disclose Individual #1’s relationship with the OGA, combined with other material misstatements and omissions that the [Office of Inspector General] found in the FISA applications, allowed the FBI to conduct surveillance on a U.S. citizen based on a FISA application that the Department of Justice later acknowledged lacked probable cause.

“The defendant’s conduct also undermined the integrity of the FISA process and struck at the very core of what the FISC fundamentally relies on in reviewing FISA applications: the government’s duty of candor.”

Page on Nov. 27 filed a 59-page $75 million lawsuit in federal court in Washington against the Department of Justice and the FBI, alleging he was surveilled illegally as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion between the campaign and Russian actors.

The lawsuit seeks relief for “multiple violations” of Page’s “Constitutional and other legal rights in connection with unlawful surveillance and investigation of him by the United States Government.”

Clinesmith is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 10. [Update: The sentencing has been postponed to Jan. 7.]