Former FBI lawyer to plead guilty in probe into origins of Russia investigation

Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith is expected to plead guilty as part the investigation led by John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, into the origins of the FBI’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to a source close to the matter. This is the first criminal case arising from the Durham probe.  Court documents posted Friday show Clinesmith faces one count of “false statements.”

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found in his December 2019 report that Clinesmith had altered a CIA email cited in the fourth application to the FISA court to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in 2017. 

In helping to prepare the application, Clinesmith was asked by an FBI supervisory special agent whether Page had ever been a government agency source, as Page had publicly claimed.

Clinesmith altered an email stating that Page was a government “source,” adding words to make it appear that the government agency, later revealed to be the CIA, was saying that Page “was not a source,” according to the Justice Department’s information in the case. 

He later told the FBI agent in an instant message that Page “was a ‘subsource’ and ‘was never a source.'” Asked whether this information was in writing, Clinesmith sent the altered email.

The government information points out that each FISA application “alleged there was probable cause that Individual #1 (Page) was a knowing agent” of Russia. 

That Page had a prior relationship with the CIA providing information as an operational contact about Russia would have been relevant to the surveillance application, and Page has argued it went a long way to explaining his contacts with Russians.

The Mueller report ultimately found that the government investigation “did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government” in its attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Clinesmith’s attorney said in a statement, “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.”

The source said that Clinesmith’s lawyer approached Durham’s office about a deal after FBI records declassified by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last month showed that Clinesmith was part of a team using a 2016 defensive briefing to track Russia questions from Flynn and then-candidate Trump. The source said the expectation is that Clinesmith will cooperate with Durham’s investigation which is typical in plea deals. He is expected to be asked, regarding both the 2016 defensive briefing and the altered CIA email, whether he acted independently or at the direction of, or with the approval of his FBI leadership. 

Clinesmith was previously faulted for sending inappropriate texts, including “viva la resistance,” a few weeks after the 2016 election.

An FBI spokesperson said in a statement, “Under Director Wray’s leadership, the FBI has been, and will continue to be, fully cooperative with Mr. Durham’s review. This includes providing documents and assigning personnel to assist his team.” 

Attorney General Bill Barr said Thursday evening there would soon be developments in the Durham probe, including one on Friday. Barr said it wouldn’t be “earth-shattering,” he told Fox News host Sean Hannity in an interview Thursday, but he also added that the timeline of the investigation wouldn’t be “dictated” by the upcoming election in November.

“I have said there are going to be developments, significant developments, before the election. But we’re not doing this on the election schedule. We’re aware of the election. We’re not going to do anything inappropriate before the election,” Barr said. “But we’re not being dictated to by this schedule. What’s dictating the timing of this are developments in the case.”

He summed up the “development in the case” to be revealed Friday as “an indication that things are moving along at the proper pace, as dictated by the facts in this investigation.”

In May 2019, Barr asked Durham to further review the government’s Russia probe, after former special counsel Robert Mueller released his report. The attorney general had previously expressed concern about possible “improper surveillance” of the Trump campaign

The review Horowitz released in December found several procedural errors but overall no “political bias” by the agency.

However, Durham questioned the conclusions of Horowitz’s report at the time.

“Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” Durham said in December.

Andres Triay contributed to this report.

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