News broke Friday that former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lawyer Kevin Clinesmith intends to plead guilty to a felony violation of altering an email used to maintain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. This charge marks the first substantive result of a yearlong investigation by special prosecutor John Durham into the origins of the FBI’s and Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
In Nov. 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz issued a criminal referral for Clinesmith’s role in the FBI’s surveillance of Trump 2016 campaign adviser Carter Page. According to his final report on FISA abuse, Clinesmith–identified as “Office of General Counsel attorney“–altered an email used to keep up the spying operation.
According to Horowitz, an FBI “Supervisory Special Agent 2” had requested “a definitive answer to whether Page had ever been a source for another U.S. government agency before he signed the final renewal application” of the third FISA warrant application seeking to maintain the wiretap on the former Trump 2016 campaign advisor.
A Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) liaison told Clinesmith that Page “did, in fact, have a prior relationship with that other agency,” the IG report continues. Clinesmith, however, “altered the liaison’s email by inserting the words ‘not a source’ into it, thus making it appear that the liaison had said that Page was ‘not a source’ for the other agency” and passed it along to the FBI’s supervisory agent.
“Relying upon this altered email, [Clinesmith] signed the third renewal application that again failed to disclose Page’s past relationship with the other agency,” Horowitz concluded.
In December 2019, FISA Court Judge Rosemary Collyer noted her understanding of Clinesmith’s alleged abuse via a public order:
[The Horowitz report] documents troubling instances in which FBI personnel provided information to [the Department of Justice’s National Security Division] which was unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession. It also describes several instances in which FBI personnel withheld from NSD information in their possession which was detrimental to their case for believing that Mr. Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.
In addition, while the fourth electronic surveillance application for Mr. Page was being prepared, an attorney in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) engaged in conduct that apparently was intended to mislead the FBI agent who ultimately swore to the facts in that application about whether Mr. Page had been a source of another government agency.
Clinesmith, who is a licensed attorney in Michigan and Washington, D.C., previously worked in a reportedly low-level position with the FBI’s National Security and Cyber Law Branch as well as under onetime FBI General Counsel James Baker and onetime Deputy General Counsel Trisha Anderson.
He was also part of the “Midyear” investigation into the Hillary Clinton email probe where he was referred to as “FBI Attorney 2.”
In June 2018, Clinesmith was outed by then-representative Mark Meadows who said the FBI was wrong to ask Horowitz to conceal his and another FBI attorney’s identity.
Clinesmith would later go on to serve as part of the team behind Mueller’s wide-ranging probe into foreign election interference, corruption and obstruction of justice. But he was jettisoned from that role in February 2018 after it was revealed that Clinesmith penned a series of invective-heavy text messages aimed at President Donald Trump after the 45th president was elected.
“I just can’t imagine the systematic disassembly of the progress we made over the last 8 years,” Clinesmith said the day after Trump’s election win. “ACA is gone. Who knows if the rhetoric about deporting people, walls, and crap is true. I honestly feel like there is going to be a lot more gun issues, too, the crazies won finally. This is the tea party on steroids. And the GOP is going to be lost, they have to deal with an incumbent in 4 years. We have to fight this again. Also Pence is stupid.”
Clinesmith previously ran for office as a member of Washington D.C.’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission and gave detailed answers to a candidate questionnaire which are available here.
The candidate described himself via the following biograph:
I was born and raised in a small farming town in rural Michigan, and have degrees from Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan State University College of Law, and the Georgetown University Law Center. I came to the DC area in 2008 to work for the U.S. Department of Energy, where I have worked in various areas for almost five years. Previously, I worked in state government in Michigan, primarily in the Governor’s office and Attorney General’s office. I am an avid college sports fan and marathon runner—in fact, if you see a tall guy with glasses running around the neighborhood in MSU gear, feel free to stop me and say hello or just yell “Go Green!”
[image via Clinesmith for Columbia Heights AND campaign]
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