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Ex-FBI lawyer officially pleads guilty for altering documents in Trump-Russia investigation

Standing on Pennsylvania Avenue NW and look up F Street NW at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C., in the United States (Aude/Wikimedia Commons)
August 19, 2020

A former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, has pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to charges he made false statements in documents the FBI used to apply for a warrant to surveil a member of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Clinesmith was charged last week by U.S. Attorney John Durham and a lawyer representing Clinesmith said he expected to plead guilty. Clinesmith plead guilty at a hearing Wednesday and U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia James Boasberg, accepted the plea, Fox News reported.

Clinesmith reportedly altered an email describing Trump campaign official Carter Page, in a way that obscured Page’s ties with U.S. intelligence as a source for intelligence on Russia. The alteration hid Page’s U.S. intelligence ties while his interactions with Russians reportedly formed the basis to renew a surveillance warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). At the time of the FISA renewal, in June, Trump had already been in office for several months.

“Kevin deeply regrets having altered the email. 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,” Clinesmith’s attorney Justin Shur said in a statement.

The charging documents against Clinesmith do say that he is charged with “willfully and knowingly” falsifying the documents.

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A previously disclosed trove of FBI texts, reported by the New York Times, also suggested Clinesmith harbored negative views of the Trump presidency.

“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,” Clinesmith wrote in one text.

In another text, he wrote, “viva le resistance,” which may be a reference to the #Resistance movement that began after Trump took office.

When asked about his texts by a DOJ inspector general, Clinesmith said he was only expressing his personal views and that the texts did not reflect on his official work.

Durham, who announced the charges against Clinesmith, was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate how probes into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia were carried out. Clinesmith is the first to be charged in relation to Durham’s probe.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday also criticized the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia investigations. The report found the FBI gave “unjustified credence” to an opposition research report against Trump, written by Christopher Steele.

“FBI used the Dossier in a FISA application and renewals and advocated for it to be included in the ICA before taking the necessary steps to validate assumptions about Steele’s credibility,” the report states. “Further, FBI did not effectively adjust its approach to Steele’s reporting once one of Steele’s subsources provided information that raised serious concerns about the source descriptions in the Steele Dossier.”

The report did say the Trump campaign did not effectively vet some of its members, such as George Papadopoulos, who were unwittingly vulnerable to Russian influence efforts; the report, however, concludes with the finding, “After more than three years of investigation by this Committee, we can now say with no doubt, there was no collusion.”