As I am writing this I have not yet seen the filings connected to the reported guilty plea of former FBI Attorney Kevin Clinesmith in connection with his alteration of an email during the Crossfire Hurricane (CH) investigation.
Notwithstanding Clinesmith’s plea, we are still mostly in the dark about what the investigation of US Attorney John Durham is pursuing, but the fact of Clinesmith’s plea is a foundation upon which to make some educated guesses. I’ll have a story with more in-depth analysis later once we know more about what Clinesmith as pled guilty to, and what the government says in the documents supporting the guilty plea.
What we know at this point is what has been reported in the press. That information is based on a leak, and that leak is coming from Clinsmith’s attorneys. So you have to accept and account for the “spin” they give to their client’s position and his decision to plead guilty. The following is “spin”:
“…but there is no evidence showing a broader conspiracy to undermine the candidacy of U.S. President Donald Trump, the New York Times reported on Friday.”
This should more accurately read:
“Clinesmith’s attorneys have not been provided with evidence that there is a broader conspiracy….”
The first thing Clinesmith’s plea suggests to me is that Durham is almost done. This plea could have been had a long time ago if this was the only criminality that Durham uncovered. The facts of Clinesmith’s actions were set forth with particularity in the Inspector General’s Report on the Four FISAs.
For those not following this closely, Clinesmith was a member of the FBI General Counsel’s Office (FBI OGC) who was assigned to work on the CH investigation. The function of FBI OGC attorneys is not expected to be surrogates or replacements for DOJ prosecutors with regard to criminal violations and investigative options, but to advise FBI investigators with respect to their compliance with FBI procedures and policies as they go about conducting investigations. Information contained in the IG report suggests that the FBI personnel conducting the CH investigation looked to Clinesmith for guidance and legal judgments outside what would normally be appropriate.
Clinesmith altered an email from the CIA in response to an inquiry from the CH investigators about the status of Carter Page’s relationship with the CIA. When the CH team was preparing the FISA application for Carter Page, it had already been reported publicly that Page claimed he had cooperated in the past with the CIA on contacts he had as part of his job with suspected members of Russian intelligence. When the CH team reached out to the CIA to confirm that information, the CIA responded with an email to Clinesmith. That message confirmed that Page had been a cooperative source of information for the CIA in the past — including a period of time being relied upon by the CH investigation to contend that Page was an “Agent of a Foreign Power” for FISA surveillance purposes. The email stated that Page was not currently in contact with the CIA, but that any information from him would be favorably received by the CIA.
This information from the CIA should have stopped the Page FISA application in its tracks. The CIA told the FBI that Page had been a friendly source of information in the past about Russian intelligence activities, and Page would be treated as a friendly source of intelligence in the future if he offered additional information. That was contrary to what the FISA application ended up representing to the FISC about Page’s status as a “Russian Agent.” Clinesmith certainly recognized the implications of the CIA communication, as he opened up the message in a way such that he could edit it, and he changed the language to make it say the exact opposite of what the CIA had reported to the CH. Clinesmith made it read that Page was NOT a friendly source of information for the CIA, and he forwarded the altered message to the CH case agent to be included in the Page FISA application.
As noted, this guilty plea could have been had a year ago. The IG report was published in Dec. 2019, and drafting the report had been in the words for weeks or months prior to that. The evidence of Clinesmith’s criminal actions would have come to light before the drafting started, and the IG is charged with reporting evidence of criminal activity it uncovers during investigations to federal prosecutors without delay.
Several reasons would explain not pursuing charges against Clinesmith sooner, but the two most obvious ones are that Clinesmith agreed to cooperate when he was notified he was a target of a criminal investigation, and the second would be that Durham did not want to initiate a court proceeding that might require him to make public disclosure of certain evidence before the was prepared to do so.
Now Durham has decided to move forward. The reporting on the story says that Durham is not expected to announce a wide-ranging conspiracy as part of Clinesmith’s guilty plea. That is most likely the case because there is no need to do so, and doing so in connection with Clinesmith would only put such allegations in the public arena for others to see — including other targets of the investigation.
In resolving a case such as Clinesmith’s, the less said, the better. Durham knows what Clinesmith as told him and that this point there is no reason for Durham to tell everyone else what Clinesmith has said.
That being the case, there is an interesting bit of information reported that I noted on Twitter. The note said that Clinesmith had told investigators that he provided the original email — the accurate email from the CIA — to the case agents and supervisors on CH. I’m digging around a bit more for that information and will update this story when I find it.
If that is true, then Durham has other subjects with regard to this specific falsehood that is traceable to Clinesmith. If the evidence is that others were aware of the false allegations about Page and the CIA that originated with Clinesmith’s alteration and never took steps to clear the record with DOJ or the FISC, then those individuals are targets as well because a knowing “material omission” of information from a FISA application would also be obstruction. Now you have the existence of a conspiracy.
If knowledge of Clinesmith’s criminal act extended beyond Clinesmith himself, that would call into question the accuracy of every submission under oath made by members of CH. Not just the FISA applications, but all the affidavits offered in support of search warrants across the entire scope of the CH investigation — including everything done by the Special Counsel’s Office since many FBI agents and other personnel carried over from the DOJ/FBI investigation of CH to the SCO investigation of CH.
Every material misstatement or omission would then be a potential overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy. This would better explain the widespread nature of Durham’s investigation as AG Barr has referenced in the past, as well as AG Barr’s decision to task two other US Attorneys with pursuing other aspects of the probe.
I’ll have another story later today once more public information is available about Clinesmith’s guilty plea.