A former FBI lawyer was sentenced Friday to probation, avoiding a prison sentence, for falsifying a claim made to sustain government surveillance on a key figure in the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Kevin Clinesmith admitted last August that he had altered an internal FBI email in the course of seeking a court's permission to continue government surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. The warrant for approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has been a flashpoint for conservative critics of the FBI and the Mueller investigation.
Page himself addressed the judge before the sentence was imposed, saying the disclosures that he was being investigated had resulted in death threats.
"This manufactured scandal and associated lies caused me to adopt the lifestyle of an international fugitive for years," Page told the hearing, conducted by video conference because of the pandemic. "I often have felt as if I had been left with no life at all. Each member of my family was severely impacted."
Federal District Court Judge James Boasberg said that while Clinesmith's actions were serious, the warrant application probably would have been approved anyway without his misstatement. Boasberg also serves as the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The Justice Department's inspector general found that when Clinesmith was working in the FBI's Office of General Counsel, he altered an e-mail about Page so that it said he was "not a source" for another U.S. intelligence agency. Page has publicly said that he was a source for the CIA, which would provide an innocent explanation for his Russian contacts.
The Justice Department's inspector general concluded that the FBI had a legitimate reason for opening the investigation into Russian election meddling. The report found there was no proof of political bias in the decision.
But Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the FBI made serious and repeated mistakes in seeking an order under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to conduct surveillance of Page
The FBI's submissions to the court made assertions that were "inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation," the report said.
Clinesmith believed he was conveying accurate information, his lawyer told the judge.
"He reported to the agent what he believed to be true, albeit incorrectly," which was that Page had been a sub-source, not a direct source for the CIA, said Clinesmith's lawyer, Justin Shur, in documents submitted for the sentencing hearing. "He cut a corner in a job that required far better of him."
"Sometimes good people make bad decisions," Shur told the judge during the hearing.
The government said Clinesmith should be sentenced to serve at least several months in prison, up to the six-months maximum for the offense. His error and other misstatements and omissions "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," prosecutors said in their court filings.
The prosecution was led by John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut. He was assigned by then-Attorney General William Barr to examine the origins of the Russia investigation.