Rep. Devin Nunes and other Republicans blasted the probation sentence with no prison time for ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty to fraudulently altering a CIA email during the FBI’s flawed pursuit of surveillance against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
Nunes, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who unearthed a host of problems with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process in the Trump-Russia investigation, told the Washington Examiner that “once again, we see a two-tiered system of justice where average Americans get investigated and imprisoned based on fake media narratives like ‘Russian collusion’ while government officials who perpetuated these abuses get off scot-free.” He added: “The FBI, DOJ, and judicial system need to regain Americans’ trust, and this absurd sentencing won’t help.”
Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who is also on the FISA court, denied the Justice Department’s efforts seeking up to six months behind bars, instead giving Clinesmith probation, 400 hours of community service within a year, and no fine.
Clinesmith, who worked on the FBI’s Trump-Russia inquiry as well as special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, admitted to special counsel John Durham’s team in August that he falsified a document during the bureau’s efforts to renew FISA surveillance authority against Page, who had been a foreign policy adviser to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Clinesmith edited a CIA email in 2017 to state that Page was “not a source” for the CIA when it had told the bureau on multiple occasions that Page had been an “operational contact” for the agency.
Page has denied any wrongdoing and was never charged with a crime.
“Mr. Clinesmith lost his job, and his government service is what has given his life much of its meaning. “He was also earning $150,000 a year — and who knows where the earnings go now. He may be disbarred or suspended from the practice of law … and may never be able to work in the national security field again,” Boasberg said when explaining his decision. “These are substantial penalties… What is more, he went from being an obscure career government lawyer to standing in the eye of a media hurricane. He has been threatened, vilified, and abused on a nationwide scale.”
Nunes was not the only Republican to express outrage on Friday.
“This sentence is absolutely despicable,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told the Washington Examiner.
“An FBI agent falsified evidence in one of the Bureau’s most important investigations ever and a slap on the wrist isn’t going to cut it,” Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said in a statement. He also quipped “this isn’t traffic court” as he argued that “America only works if the truth matters, if lying has consequences, and if public servants are held accountable for breaking the laws.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham contended that the punishment “trivializes what I believe to be a stunning breach of duty to the Court and to the American people” and “will only further erode the American people’s confidence in DOJ and FBI, after they took the law into their own hands.
Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted: “Very rare that dept of ‘JUST US’ wld recommend jail time 4 one of their own. But they did 4 Clinesmith former FBI attorney who falsified paperwork 2spy on Trump campaign+prop up phony collusion probe+violate civil liberties of Carter Page. Outrageous DC judge gave NO prison time.”
Anthony Scarpelli, an assistant U.S. attorney on Durham’s team, told the court on Friday that “the defendant’s criminal conduct tarnished and undermined the integrity of the FISA program” and that “it has lasting effects on DOJ, the FBI, the FISC, the FISA process and trust and confidence United States citizens have in their government.”
Clinesmith called his actions an improper “shortcut” rather than malicious deception.
”I am fully aware of the significance of my actions and the crucial error in judgment I made,” Clinesmith told the judge before the sentence was announced. “I let the FBI, the Department of Justice, my colleagues, the public, and my family down. I also let myself down. I will live with the consequences and deeply-held feeling of regret, shame, and loss caused by it for the rest of my life.”
Durham said Clinesmith’s deception “fueled public distrust of the FBI and of the entire FISA program itself” last month, suggesting that “the public record also reflects that political or personal bias may have motivated or contributed to his offense conduct.”
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report in December 2019 criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the FISA warrants against Page, for concealing potentially exculpatory information from the FISA Court related to denials by a number of Trump associates, and for the bureau’s reliance on the Democratic-funded, discredited dossier by British ex-spy Christopher Steele. The Justice Department told the FISA court it believed the final two of four Page FISA warrants were “not valid.” FBI Director Christopher Wray agreed there had been at least some illegal surveillance and said he was working to “claw back” that FISA information.
Mueller’s investigation concluded that the Russian government interfered in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” in his April 2019 report, but the special counsel “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
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