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Ex-FBI lawyer admits to false statement during Russia probe

FILE - This 2018 portrait released by the U.S. Department of Justice shows Connecticut's U.S. Attorney John Durham. Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith will plead guilty to making a false statement in the first criminal case arising from U.S. Attorney John Durham's investigation into the probe of ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. (U.S. Department of Justice via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former FBI lawyer pleaded guilty Wednesday to
altering a document related to the secret surveillance of a former Trump
campaign adviser during the Russia investigation.

Clinesmith is the first current or former official to be charged in a
special Justice Department review of the investigation into ties between
Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Attorney General
William Barr appointed John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to
scrutinize decisions made by officials during that probe.

pleaded guilty to a single false statement charge, admitting that he
doctored an email that the FBI relied on as it sought court approval to
eavesdrop on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in 2017.

sentencing guidelines call for zero to six months in prison, but the
punishment is ultimately up to U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who
accepted Clinesmith’s plea. Sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 10.
Clinesmith resigned from the FBI before an internal disciplinary process
was completed.

The case highlights broader problems with the
FBI’s surveillance applications on Page, an issue that has long animated
critics of the Russia investigation.

Charging documents filed
Friday say Clinesmith altered an email he received in June 2017 from
another government agency to say that Page was “not a source” for that
agency, then forwarded it along to a colleague. The document does not
say which agency, but Page has publicly said that he had worked as a
source for the CIA.

The FBI relied on Clinesmith’s representation
in the email when it submitted its fourth and final application to the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to secretly eavesdrop on Page on
suspicions that he was a potential Russian agent.

about any relationship Page may have had with another government agency
would have been important to disclose to the FISA court to the extent it
could have helped explain, or reframe in a less suspicious light,
Page’s interactions with Russians.

Clinesmith mostly answered
routine questions from the judge with brief responses, but he did
elaborate at one point to clarify the nature of his conduct and to make
clear that he believed the information he had included in the email was
factually accurate at the time he altered the message.

“At the
time, I believed the information I was providing in the email was
accurate, but I am agreeing that the information I inserted into the
email was not originally there and I inserted that information,”
Clinesmith said.

Clinesmith’s attorney, Justin Shur, said in a
statement last week that Clinesmith regretted his actions and had not
intended to mislead the court or his colleagues.

A Justice
Department inspector general report issued last December found
significant errors and omissions in the four applications that the FBI
submitted to eavesdrop on Page, and said officials failed to update the
court after receiving new information that undercut the original premise
that Page may have been an agent of a foreign power.

A Senate
intelligence committee report Tuesday that examined links between Trump
associates and Russia also identified flaws in the FBI’s surveillance,
including its reliance on a dossier of opposition research compiled by a
former British spy whose work was funded by Democrats.

Page was never charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing.

Justice Department officials who have testified before Congress in
recent months have said they would not have signed off on the
surveillance applications had they known then about the problems that
have since come to light.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the
chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has been leading an
investigation into the Russia probe, said after Wednesday’s plea that
“the wheels of justice are turning.”

“It is imperative we restore
trust to a broken system and the only way that is possible is for people
to be held accountable for their actions,” Graham added. “More to

It remains unclear what additional charges, if any, Durham
might bring. Though Justice Department policy is not to take
investigative action aimed at affecting an election, Barr has said that
doesn’t apply here since Durham’s probe is not targeting any current
candidates for office, including Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who was
vice president in the Obama administration when the investigation began.
But he has also said he is mindful of the calendar.

The FBI said
in a statement that it has been cooperating with Durham’s investigation,
including by providing documents and assigning officials to help his