UNITED STATES—On Friday, January 29, former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to 12 months probation and 400 hours of community service from U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg for altering an email in connection with the submission of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) application. Clinesmith pleaded guilty to a false statement offense on August 19, 2020.
Between July 2015 and September 2019, Clinesmith was employed with the FBI as an Assistant General Counsel. On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a Foreign Agents Registration Act investigation, known as “Crossfire Hurricane,” into whether individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were colluding with the Russian government. By August 16, 2016, the FBI had opened cases under the Crossfire Hurricane umbrella on four individuals, including former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Clinesmith was assigned to provide legal support to FBI personnel working on Crossfire Hurricane. During the investigation, there were a total of four court-approved FISA applications targeting Page. Each of the FISA applications alleged there was probable cause that Page was a Russian agent.
Prior to the approval of the first FISA application, on August 17, 2016, another U.S. government agency (“OGA”) provided certain members of the Crossfire Hurricane team a memorandum indicating that Page had been approved as an “operational contact” for the OGA from 2008 to 2013 and detailed information regarding Page’s prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers. The first three FISA applications did not include Page’s status with the OGA.
Prior to the submission of the fourth FISA application, and after Page stated publicly that he had assisted the U.S. government in the past, an FBI Supervisory Special Agent (“SSA”) asked Clinesmith to inquire with the OGA as to whether Page had ever been a “source” for the OGA. On June 15, 2017, Clinesmith sent an email to a liaison at the OGA (“OGA Liaison”) seeking clarification as to whether Page was an OGA source, and the OGA Liaison responded via email to Clinesmith.
On June 19, 2017, Clinesmith altered the email he received from the OGA Liaison by adding the words “not a source,” and then forwarded the email to the FBI SSA. Relying on the altered email, on June 29, 2017, the SSA submitted the fourth FISA application to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Clinesmith’s attorney argued that he thought the statement was true at the time and only altered the email to avoid the hassle of reaching out to the CIA. Boasberg sided with Clinesmith’s defense.
“My view of the evidence is that Mr. Clinesmith likely believed that what he said about Mr. Page was true,” Boasberg said, according to Politico. “By altering the email, he was saving himself some work and taking an inappropriate shortcut.”