Kevin Clinesmith is the former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to falsifying a 2017 CIA e-mail related to the bogus Russian collusion investigation launched by the FBI against Donald Trump and some of his aides. Clinesmith’s criminal deception deprived the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of accurate information critical to its determination of whether to renew its electronic surveillance authorization against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The Department of Justice requested a jail sentence for Clinesmith of up to 6 months. Instead, Clinesmith received a slap on the wrist and words of sympathy from Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, an Obama nominee. Judge Boasberg also happens to be the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Clinesmith had a hand in misleading.
“The defendant’s criminal conduct tarnished and undermined the integrity of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] program,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Scarpelli told the court. “It has lasting effects on DOJ, the FBI, the FISC, the FISA process and trust and confidence United States citizens have in their government…The resulting harm is immeasurable.”
Judge Boasberg was unmoved by the seriousness of Clinesmith’s crime against the integrity of the FISA Court over which he presides, in addition to his regular duties as a federal district court judge. In his capacity as a federal district court judge, Boasberg handed Clinesmith a get out of jail free card. The sentence was one year of probation, 400 hours of community service within a year, and a special assessment of $100 to the court. The light punishment in no way fit the crime.
Kevin Clinesmith was not some low-level bureaucrat still wet behind the ears. Clinesmith had been serving as an assistant general counsel in the National Security and Cyber Law Branch of the FBI’s Office of General Counsel since July 2015. Moreover, Clinesmith did not simply edit the CIA e-mail to fix its grammar or correct a typo, an act that itself would have been improper. Clinesmith completely falsified its meaning in a way that hurt an innocent American citizen.
Despite being informed by a CIA liaison that Carter Page had a prior relationship with the CIA as a source of information, Clinesmith altered the 2017 e-mail from the CIA to say precisely the opposite. He inserted the word “not” next to the word “source” in the CIA e-mail. Clinesmith did so with full awareness of how critical an accurate description of Page’s relationship with the CIA would be to the FISA Court in ruling on a government application to continue spying on Page. If the court had known Page previously acted as a source for the CIA on Russia-related information, it would have been more likely to consider his contacts with the Russians as those of a CIA “operational contact,” not of a suspected Russian foreign agent.
Judge Boasberg saw things differently and tried to cast Clinesmith’s conduct in as innocent a light as possible. “Mr. Clinesmith likely believed that what he said was true,” Judge Boasberg said, trying to explain his reasoning for the incredibly light sentence. “I do not believe he was attempting to achieve an end he knew was wrong.” All that Judge Boasberg had to back up his surmise was Clinesmith’s own self-serving claim about his intentions.
Moreover, Judge Boasberg declared that what Clinesmith did was a harmless error. “Even if Mr. Clinesmith had been accurate about Mr. Page’s relationship with the other government agency, the warrant may well have been signed and the surveillance authorized,” the judge asserted. Judge Boasberg was engaging in sheer speculation.
Judge Boasberg also cried crocodile tears for Clinesmith, who the judge said “has suffered” following the public revelation of what he had done. “He’s not someone who ever sought the limelight or invited controversy other than by his criminal action here,” Judge Boasberg said. Clinesmith had gone from being a faceless government lawyer to “standing in the eye of a media hurricane.” Thus, Judge Boasberg concluded, after weighing “the damages he caused and what he has suffered and the positives in his own life — I believe a probationary sentence is appropriate here and will therefore impose it.”
Clinesmith brought the wreckage to his professional career and reputation upon himself. Carter Page, a patriot who helped the CIA, was the true victim here, not Kevin Clinesmith. Page’s life was nearly destroyed by a big lie that Clinesmith helped perpetuate.
Why should Clinesmith get off with a slap on the wrist after contributing to the hell that Page was put through? Where does Page go to have his good name fully restored after Clinesmith and the rest of the FBI’s Trump-hating gang got through trashing it?
“Viva le resistance,” Clinesmith exclaimed following Trump’s 2016 election victory. Carter Page was part of the collateral damage wrought by “le resistance.”
Judge Boasberg has sent a disturbing message to law enforcement officials that they can falsify crucial information to hide material facts from a court of law and essentially slide by with minimal punishment. Meanwhile, George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, was sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI as the FBI’s Russian collusion investigation was just getting underway. This is what a broken justice system looks like.
The sentencing judge in Papadopoulos’s case, Judge Randolph D. Moss, said that probation was insufficient because Papadopoulos, a private citizen, had purportedly impeded an investigation of “grave national importance.” Yet in connection with that same investigation of “grave national importance,” Judge Boasberg decided that probation was enough for a senior FBI lawyer who attempted to manipulate the justice system he was sworn to protect. FISA’s chief judge shamefully showed more concern for Kevin Clinesmith’s welfare than he did for the integrity of the FISA Court process.
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