Former FBI Attorney and member of Mueller Special Counsel team Kevin Clinesmth appeared in federal court in the District of Columbia today and entered a plea of guilty to the one-count Information filed against him by US Attorney John Durham last Friday.
This is normally a very rudimentary and unexciting court proceeding that unfolds pretty much according to a script that nearly all federal judges now follow. The judge proceeds through a standard series of advisements and question to ensure that the defendant understands what he is charged with, understands the purpose of the hearing, understands what his constitutional rights are, understands that he is giving up some of the constitutional rights if he pleads guilty, and then goes through the facts of the case as laid out in the written plea agreement before asking the defendant how he pleads to the charge — guilty or not guilty.
Clinesmith is charged with having altered the contents of an email from a CIA Liason on the subject of whether Carter Page had a historical relationship with the CIA. In April 2017, the existence of a FISA warrant against Page had been leaked to the press by a Senate official working for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. With the press reporting that he was suspected of being a Russian Agent, Page began giving interviews to address the question and disclosed that for several years he had been reporting to the CIA on his contacts with suspected Russian intelligence officials. In fact, in 2013 Page had cooperated with the FBI in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of three such Russian intelligence officers.
While preparing the third application to extend the Page FISA warrant, an FBI supervisor tasked Clinesmith to contact the CIA and find out if there was any truth to the statements Page was making in the press. Up to that point in time, the FBI had not communicated any information to the FISA Court about Page’s past involvement with US intelligence agencies — although they did use the fact that he had come into the orbit of Russian intelligence officials in 2013 as a basis to support the claim he was “wittingly or unwittingly” assisting Russian intelligence efforts during the 2016 campaign.
Clinesmith did communicate with the CIA as directed, but before he forwarded the CIA email to the Supervisor as directed, he altered the text that had been written by the CIA Liason to include the definitive phrase “is not a source” with regard to Page. Based on that, the Supervisor did not advise the FISC court about anything having to do with Page’s historical relationship with the CIA.
As has been anticipated based on press reports of comments by his attorney, Clinesmith told the judge during the hearing that at the time he sent the email to the FBI Supervisor who asked him to get information from the CIA, he thought the content of the email was accurate. But he admitted that he did alter the email by inserting words into it that the CIA Liason who sent him the email had not included.
As reported on Twitter, the proceedings went straight by the book, and without any issues or hiccups over the nature of the charge. Start to finish it took under 15 minutes.
That is normal. This is not a complicated process, and in a one-count Information with a straight-forward charge, there isn’t much to do in terms of inquiring into the facts of the case.
This should be an abject lesson in why readers should NOT TRUST ANDREW WEISSMAN on anything. Weissmann has been all over Twitter making legally INACCURATE statements about what Clinesmith would need to admit for a guilty plea to be valid to the charge as filed by Durham. Weissmann has repeatedly stated that the substance of the email must be false — in other words, he has claimed that the law requires proof that Carter Page was a source of information for the CIA, which would be contrary to the substance of the email as altered by Clinesmith after he inserted the four words “is not a source” in reference to that issue.
That is NOT THE LAW on a “false writings” charge, Weissman knows that is not the law, so Weissmann’s repeated claims on Twitter that such evidence is necessary tells you everything you need to know about the ethics of Andrew Weissman.
He’s the same guy who was reversed 9-0 by the Supreme Court after he convinced a federal judge to instruct the jury in the prosecution of Big 5 accounting firm Arthur Anderson that they could convict the company of “obstruction of justice” even if no one in Arthur Anderson had any reason to believe that following an established company policy was wrong.
He’s the same guy who pushed for “obstruction of justice” theories of liability against a President connected to that President firing an FBI Director when the President has unfettered authority to do just that.
I’m 100% confident in my speculation that Weissmann also pushed to indict President Trump in contravention of existing DOJ policy that a sitting President cannot be indicted, and only had to relent by virtue of the fact that Rod Rosenstein told the SCO that they could not violate existing DOJ policy because that limitation is written into the regulations upon which the Special Counsel was appointed.
Weissmann has yet to make a single “positive” reference on Twitter to Donald Trump, William Barr, or John Durham. He is as partisan as one can be. The idea that anyone would ever describe him “nonpartisan” in his role as a key member of Mueller’s SCO is now comical. He was always a partisan, and his target was always Donald Trump.
The sentencing of Clinesmith was set for December. During the hearing, the Judge outlined what the parties anticipate the guideline range will be with regard to an anticipated sentence. I’m certain this will disappoint many, but the guideline range for this charge has always been 0-6 months, and it is likely that Clinesmith will receive no jail time, but will instead be placed on a period of probation. It’s possible that the judge might think a small amount of jail time is necessary. Two defendants charged with similar crimes by the SCO received sentences of 30 days or less in custody.
It remains to be seen whether Clinesmith has anything meaningful to provide to Durham. I suspect he does. It might not be evidence of “criminality” of the actions by either investigators or prosecutors on the Mueller SCO team.
But Clinesmith worked with the Mueller SCO team up until February 2018 — a period of 8 months after Mueller was appointed. He certainly can provide Durham with an “insider’s” account of the conversations and attitudes that existed. There is no privilege that applies.
THAT, in my opinion, is what Weissmann is trying so desperately to prevent from happening.