Connecticut federal prosecutor John Durham, who has been appointed as special counsel, has been the subject of much speculation and a good deal of frustration for several months now. Conservatives want to know what he is doing, if anything, about the FBI FISA scandal, and how long he is going to take to do it. Durham is still very much on the case, though, and he wants to make an example of one former FBI attorney who was indicted for altering an email that played a role in the approval of a FISA warrant renewal application.
As the Bureau prepared to submit to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court a request to renew a warrant for the continued surveillance of former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, an unidentified supervisory agent had one question before signing off. He wanted to know if Page, whom the FBI had decided for reasons unknown might be a Russian agent, had ever worked as a human intelligence source – an informant – for the CIA.
FBI Lawyer’s Deception
The spy agency’s Liaison emailed the FBI official to confirm that, yes, Page had been a CIA source. Kevin Clinesmith, an attorney with the FBI’s Office of General Counsel, altered that email to make it appear that the Liaison had written that Page had not been a source for the agency. Armed with that false information, the FBI supervisory agent signed off on the FISA warrant renewal paperwork.
In a sentencing memorandum submitted to the court handling Clinesmith’s case, Durham asserts that “[b]y inserting the words ‘not a source’ into the OGA [other government agency] Liaison’s email, the defendant fabricated support for the false notion that [Page] had not acted as a source for the OGA.
The significance of this was also made clear by Durham. Bear in mind that Page was suspected of being a Russian agent or asset. That suspicion would have been greatly undermined by the discovery that Page had been a CIA source:
“The defendant altered an email that misled an FBI supervisory special agent and caused the supervisory special agent to sign a FISA application that failed to disclose that [Page] had been a source of another government agency – a fact that bore on whether the individual was acting as a knowing agent of a foreign power.”
Durham described Clinesmith’s act of deception as having “significant repercussions” and submitted to the court that “there is a need for just punishment that includes a term of imprisonment to reflect the seriousness of the offense.” In this case, it appears that Clinesmith faces the possibility of up to six months in prison. That seems lenient, given the gravity of his crime, which, in effect, amounts to impersonating a CIA official and deliberately misleading his own superior. Nevertheless, Durham apparently believes that Clinesmith’s incarceration – even for that short a time – would send a message.