KEY POINTS

  • The investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election has loomed over Donald Trump since he was sworn into office in 2017
  • A former FBI lawyer was to plead guilty for an email alteration as part of the inquiry into the investigations origins
  • The federal prosecutor assigned to head it and Department of Justice independent inspector general are said to be far apart on their conclusions

A former FBI attorney admitted he altered a document used to obtain authorization to renew a wiretap on former 2016 Trump campaign aide Carter Page in criminal information filed Friday.

Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election has been a dominant narrative of Donald Trump’s presidency. While evidence was found suggesting members of the Trump campaign met and worked with Russian operatives, Trump has claimed from the outset the investigation was unfounded and repeatedly called it a witch-hunt.

Following the investigation’s conclusion in 2019, Attorney General William Barr added a new wrinkle, initiating a Justice Department investigation of the investigation.

“I am reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted during the summer of 2016,” Barr told the House Appropriations Subcommittee in April 2019.

While the inquiry, led by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, had remained largely quiet since it began, former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith was expected to plead guilty to one count of making a false statement. Clinesmith allegedly altered an email CIA investigators used in trying to renew a secret wiretap in the first days of the Mueller investigation.

Investigators marked Page as a person of interestwhen he joined the campaign in spring 2016 as part of its foreign policy team. Suspicion of Page grew ahead of the November elections, investigators suspecting Russian intelligence agents had marked him for recruitment. This led to a secret wiretap, which was renewed at least three times.

However, Republicans argued the information investigators used to obtain the wiretaps was questionable and asked for a review. Department of Justice independent Inspector General Michael Horowitz conducted a review of the applications and found multiple errors.

This has been the crux of Barr’s inquiry into the investigation’s origins. Clinesmith came under scrutiny for the alteration to a June 2017 email used to renew the wiretap application, which Durham said misrepresented the original email and was a crime.

The court document said:

“On or about June 19, 2017, within the District of Columbia, the defendant, Kevin Clinesmith, did willfully and knowingly make and use a false writing and document, knowing the same to contain a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement and entry in a matter before the jurisdiction of the executive branch and judicial branch of the Government of the United States. Specifically, on or about June 19, 2017, the defendant altered the OGA Liaison's June 15, 2017 email by adding that Individual # 1 “was not a source” and then forwarded the email to the SSA, when in truth , and in fact, and as the defendant well knew , the original June 15, 2017 email from the OGA Liaison did not contain the words “not a source.””

Clinesmith’s attorney, Justin Shu, said the alteration was an honest mistake on the part of his client and did not reflect some larger alleged conspiracy aimed at undermining Trump.

“Kevin deeply regrets having altered the email,” Shu said in a press release. “It was never his intent to mislead the court or his colleagues as he believed the information he relayed was accurate. But Kevin understands what he did was wrong and accepts responsibility.”

No additional evidence was released, but Durham and Horowitz are reportedly far apart on their conclusions from this part of the case.

Horowitz said despite Clinesmith’s actions, the FBI still had sufficient cause to open their investigation and the bureau did not act with any sort of political bias. Durham said in a press release the investigation is still ongoing and he did not agree “with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”

Other aspects of the Mueller investigation Durham is examining is the allegation Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the election on Trump’s behalf and the dossier provided by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele used in the wiretap applications.

The Mueller investigation concluded that although Trump campaign officials expressed interest in working with Russian agents, no collusion actually took place.

President Donald Trump claimed vindication after the Justice Department dropped charges against his former aide Michael Flynn in the Russia meddling investigation President Donald Trump claimed vindication after the Justice Department dropped charges against his former aide Michael Flynn in the Russia meddling investigation Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / POOL