On Friday, a U.S. judge declined to impose a prison sentence for a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to falsifying a document during the agency’s investigation of contacts between former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
Kevin Clinesmith, 38, apologized for doctoring the email about Carter Page’s relationship with the CIA, saying he was “truly ashamed” of what he had done. Judge James Boasberg ordered Kevin Clinesmith to serve one year’s probation and 400 hours of community service.
Kevin Clinesmith had already spent several months in prison for his crime, his concerned attorneys suggested probation would be more appropriate. Clinesmith pleaded guilty last summer to altering an email that one of his colleagues used in preparing an application to surreptitiously monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the bureau’s 2016 investigation of Russia’s election interference.
“This conduct is the only stain on the defendant’s character that I’ve been able to discern,” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said in imposing a sentence of 12 months probation rather than the prison sentence that prosecutors had requested.
Clinesmith’s conduct had undermined the integrity of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved the FBI’s flawed applications to surveil Page. “Courts all over the country rely on representations from the government, and expect them to be correct,” Boasberg further added.
Special Counsel John Durham had sought up to six months in prison, suggesting Clinesmith acted out of “political or personal bias” against Trump. Defense lawyers asked the judge for no prison time, saying his action was a mistake. They noted that he and his wife are expecting their first child in March.
Boasberg said an extensive investigation by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog found that Clinesmith had not acted with any political bias. The judge said he saw “no reason to disagree with that.”
Clinesmith is the only person charged so far as part of a special investigation into actions by law enforcement and intelligence agencies during the probe of ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. That investigation was opened in 2019 by John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, at the direction of then-Attorney General William Barr.
Former president Donald Trump and his political allies have highlighted the case as part of their allegations that the bureau was biased and seeking to undermine Trump with the investigation that explored possible ties between Russia and his campaign.
Trump called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt” and sought to portray the 2016 FBI investigation as part of a scheme to harm him politically.
Clinesmith said in a lengthy statement in court that he took “full responsibility” for what he termed a “lapse in judgment.”
“I let the FBI, Department of Justice, my colleagues, the public, and my family down. I also let myself down,” he said, adding later, “Please do not let my error reflect on those who continue to serve our country.”
Clinesmith pleaded guilty in September to altering a 2017 email that he had received from the CIA to say that Page was “not a source” for the agency even though the original email indicated that he was. As a result, when the Justice Department applied to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for the fourth and final warrant to eavesdrop on Page’s communications, it did not reveal that Page had had an existing relationship with the CIA.
That information would have been important to disclose to the secretive court to the extent it could have helped explain any contact Page was having with Russians as understandable and not nefarious.