Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement on Wednesday, admitting he doctored an email that was submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as part of a FISA application used to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Clinesmith, 38, worked for four years as an assistant general counsel in the National Security and Cyber Law branch at the FBI. In December 2019, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that Clinesmith had altered a CIA email cited in the fourth application to the FISA court to surveil Page in 2017.
Clinesmith was helping to prepare the application, and in doing so, he altered an email which originally stated that Page was a government "source," as he had publicly claimed. However Clinesmith added words to make it appear that the government agency, which was later revealed to be the CIA, said that Page was "not a source," according to the Justice Department's information in the case.
In a virtual court hearing on Wednesday, Clinesmith told the judge that at the time he had understood the information he changed to be true.
"At the time, I believed that the information I was providing in the email was accurate," Clinesmith explained. "But I am agreeing that the information I entered into the email was not originally there, and that I inserted that information."
The case is the first criminal charge to stem from the ongoing probe by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham into the origins of the Russia investigation. In 2019, Attorney General William Barr tasked Durham with reviewing the FBI's handling of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Last week on the conservative podcast, the Buck Sexton Show, Barr would not say whether Durham's probe will reach its conclusion prior to the November election, saying, "We're all aware of the calendar, you know we're not going to do anything for the purposes of affecting an election. But, you know, we are trying to get some — some things accomplished before the election."
Clinesmith pleaded guilty before federal Judge James Boasberg, who sits on the bench in the District of Columbia, and also serves as a presiding judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the court that received the inaccurate FISA application involving Clinesmith.
Boasberg consulted with both parties in the case on whether or not his position on the FISC warranted recusal, but neither side objected. He said that the criminal case had been "randomly" assigned to him and stated that his position on the secretive FISC court had nothing to do with the nature of this case and would not prevent him from acting fairly.
Boasberg will sentence Clinesmith on December 10. He faces up to five years in prison.