A former FBI lawyer will plead guilty to falsifying a document as part of a federal probe into the origins of an investigation into possible contacts between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, the former FBI official’s lawyer said on Friday.
Kevin Clinesmith is accused of altering a government email about a former Trump campaign adviser who was a target of FBI surveillance, according to documents filed in Washington, DC’s federal court. His lawyer, Justin Shur, told The Associated Press news agency that Clinesmith intends to plead guilty to the single false statement count and that he regrets his actions.
The case against Clinesmith was cheered by President Donald Trump and his supporters as they look to the Durham investigation to lift Trump’s wobbly re-election prospects and to expose what they see as wrongdoing as the FBI opened an investigation into whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with the Kremlin to sway the outcome of the 2016 election.
“The fact is they spied on my campaign and they got caught,” Trump said at the White House on Friday.
While Trump appears set to tout the results, the five-page charging document is limited in scope and does not allege criminal wrongdoing by anyone other than Clinesmith, nor does it offer evidence to support Trump’s assertions that the Russia probe was tainted by widespread political bias in the FBI.
It does make clear that the FBI relied on Clinesmith’s misrepresentations as it sought to renew its surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
“Kevin deeply regrets having altered the email,” Justin Shur, a lawyer for Clinesmith, told Reuters news agency in an email.
According to criminal information filed in federal court in Washington, DC on Friday, Clinesmith altered an email from another unnamed government agency, believed to be the CIA, to say that an unnamed individual, believed to be Page, “was not a source” even though an email from the other government agency did not say that.
“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,” Shur added.
Clinesmith wrote texts expressing opposition to President Trump, which said he is likely to tout Clinesmith’s anticipated guilty plea as evidence the Russia investigation initiated by the administration of President Barack Obama was illegitimate and politically motivated.
In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday, US Attorney General William Barr predicted there would be a “development” on Friday in the investigation by John Durham, a Connecticut-based federal prosecutor whom Barr named to investigate the origins of federal investigations into alleged contacts between Trump advisers and Russia in 2016.
The Durham investigation, which is also examining the intelligence community’s assessment about Russian election interference, has caused concern among Democrats, who view it as a politically charged exercise meant to relitigate an already closed investigation. They fear criminal charges or public reports issued so close to the 2020 election could be timed to affect November’s vote.
The investigation has proceeded alongside a parallel effort by Senate Republicans to discredit the Russia probe and as Barr has escalated his own criticism of the FBI’s probe. Documents released in recent months have called into question the reliability of information the FBI relied on, particularly from a dossier of Democratic-funded research, as the agency applied for applications to surveil Page.
Durham had no comment, a spokesman told AP. It remains unclear what additional charges, if any, Durham might bring, though he has been closely scrutinising how intelligence agencies arrived at the conclusion that Russia had interfered in 2016 to benefit Trump.
A Justice Department inspector general report that previously examined the FBI’s actions found that the probe was opened for a valid reason but also identified significant errors in surveillance applications that targeted Page.
Durham is a veteran prosecutor with a history of special assignments from Washington, including leading a Justice Department investigation into the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques of terror suspects and the destruction of videotapes documenting those interrogations.
Barr appointed Durham just weeks after special counsel Robert Mueller concluded his nearly two-year investigation. Mueller found significant contacts during the 2016 campaign between Russians and Trump associates but did not allege a criminal conspiracy between them.
Mueller also examined multiple episodes in which Trump sought to affect or choke off the Russia investigation, but he did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice.
Barr quickly signalled his scepticism with the Russia investigation, concluding that Trump had not obstructed justice even though Mueller had pointedly left that question unresolved.
More recently, Barr stepped in to dismiss the criminal case against former Trump administration NSA Michael Flynn even though Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and Barr overruled prosecutors to seek a lighter prison term for Trump confidant Roger Stone.
An appeal of the Flynn dismissal decision is now before a federal appeals court, and Trump commuted Stone’s sentence last month.