A former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty last year to falsifying a document to justify the surveillance of a former Trump 2016 campaign adviser was sentenced Friday to one year of probation.
Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted altering an email so the government could continue to wiretap campaign adviser Carter Page, received far less than the prison sentence the government had recommended.
Clinesmith was also sentenced to 400 hours of community service. The maximum penalty for his crime is five years in prison.
Special counsel John Durham sought six months in prison for Clinesmith, saying he acted out of “political or personal bias” against former President Trump. Defense attorneys had asked to spare Clinesmith from prison, acknowledging he committed a crime, but insisting he didn’t mean to mislead investigators.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said Clinesmith shouldn’t face jail time, partly because the surveillance warrant for Mr. Page would have been approved regardless of whether false information had been inserted into the application.
Judge Boasberg, who was appointed to the D.C. Superior Court by President George W. Bush and elevated to the District Court by President Obama, said he did not believe political bias against the Trump campaign influenced Clinesmith’s actions.
“There was no real benefit to him from his actions and no real intent to harm,” Judge Boasberg said. “My view of the evidence is that Mr. Clinesmith likely believed what he said about Mr. Page was true. By altering the email, he was saving himself some work and taking a shortcut.”
Judge Boasberg was also sympathetic toward Clinesmith, saying the former FBI worker suffered plenty because of the media storm that followed the case.
Speaking before the sentence was handed down, Clinesmith said he was “truly ashamed about the harm that he brought the FBI and Justice Department.”
“I let the FBI, the Department of Justice, my colleagues and family down,” he said. “I also let myself down. I will live with the consequences of my actions…for the rest of my life.”
He concluded his remarks by apologizing to the FBI, Justice Department, the court and his wife.
Mr. Page, addressed the court, saying that his life “spun out of control” because of the false allegations included in court documents submitted by Clinesmith and others.
“I know what it’s like for your life to be destroyed,” he said.
Mr. Page said he has been forced to live the “life of an international fugitive,” because of the negative publicity generated by being targeted in the FBI probe.
A girlfriend shutting a door in his face, people harassed him on the Washington Metro, death threats calling him a “traitor” were among the injuries Mr. Page said occurred because of the false allegations included in the documents.
In pushing for prison time, government attorney Anthony Scarpelli called Clinesmith’s actions, “incredibly egregious.”
Clinesmith’s attorney Justin Shur requested leniency, saying his client’s life has been forever altered because he’s also received death threats and unable to find work.
“It was a significant error in judgment, and he paid the price,” Mr. Shur said.
Clinesmith so far is the only person to be charged in Mr. Durham’s investigation, which is approaching its two-year anniversary. Then-Attorney General William P. Barr appointed Mr. Durham to probe the early stages of the FBI’s investigation into links between Russians who meddled in 2016 election and the Trump campaign.
Another special counsel, Robert Mueller, had concluded there was no conspiracy or collusion between Russia and the Trump team.
Clinesmith, who provided legal advice to agents working both the Russia probe and the Hillary Clinton email investigation, admitted to altering an email in 2017 so the FBI could continue to monitor Mr. Page.
The FBI had suspected that Mr. Page might be a Russian spy, but no public evidence ever emerged to justify that theory. He was later cleared by Mr. Mueller and has never been charged with a crime.
In early 2017, Clinesmith changed a document to say Mr. Page was not a source for the CIA, when he actually was. The assertion was used by the Justice Department to obtain the third Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant for Mr. Page.
While in contact with what appeared to be the FBI’s liaison to the CIA, Clinesmith was informed via email that Mr. Page was indeed a source for the CIA.
Clinesmith then altered the email by inserting the word “not” next to “source,” making it appear as if Mr. Page had no relationship with the CIA.
Clinesmith was first outed, although not directly named, in a 2019 report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. He is identified in the report as “Office of General Counsel attorney,” but the report makes it clear he is the one who changed the email.