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Ex-F.B.I. Lawyer Who Altered Email in Russia Case Is Sentenced to Probation

A former F.B.I. lawyer who has admitted doctoring an email during preparations to seek renewed court permission to wiretap a former Trump …

A former F.B.I. lawyer who has admitted doctoring an email during preparations to seek renewed court permission to wiretap a former Trump campaign aide during the Russia investigation was sentenced on Friday to one year of probation and 400 hours of community service — but no prison time.

Prosecutors led by John H. Durham, a special counsel scrutinizing the government’s actions in the Russia investigation, had asked the judge overseeing the high-profile case against the former F.B.I. lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, to impose several months of prison time.

But the judge, James E. Boasberg of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, said the destruction of Mr. Clinesmith’s career — and being vilified in a “media hurricane” — had already provided significant punishment and sent a deterrent message.

“Anybody who has watched what Mr. Clinesmith has suffered is not someone who will readily act in that fashion,” Judge Boasberg said. “Weighing all of these factors together — both in terms of the damages he caused and what he has suffered and the positives in his own life — I believe a probationary sentence is appropriate here and will therefore impose it.”

The surveillance of the former aide, Carter Page, in 2016 and 2017 was a minor part of the overall Russia investigation. But it has become a political flash point because the Justice Department’s inspector general uncovered numerous errors and omissions in its four court applications, flaws that President Donald J. Trump and his allies used as fodder in portraying the Russia inquiry as a plot by the so-called deep state.

Mr. Clinesmith’s misdeed was the most egregious of the problems uncovered by the inspector general. In June 2017, as the F.B.I. was preparing to seek the final renewal of the order, an F.B.I. official who was going to sign a sworn description of the facts asked Mr. Clinesmith to seek clarity from the C.I.A. about whether Mr. Page was a source for the agency, as he had claimed.

In fact, Mr. Page had spoken to the C.I.A. in the past about his interactions with Russian intelligence agents — a material fact that all four wiretap applications omitted, and that might have made him look less suspicious had the court been told about it. But Mr. Clinesmith inserted the words “and not a ‘source’” into a C.I.A. email and showed it to his colleague, which satisfied him and prevented the problem from coming to light internally.

The inspector general referred Mr. Clinesmith for a criminal investigation, and the matter was assigned to Mr. Durham, a United States attorney from Connecticut whom the attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, had assigned to investigate the Russia investigation. The Clinesmith case is the only criminal prosecution Mr. Durham’s team has brought.

When Mr. Clinesmith pleaded guilty last year to making a false statement, he acknowledged that he had intentionally altered the email and created a false record. But he also claimed that he did not intentionally mislead his colleague because at the time he believed the words he inserted were accurate. He had separately told his colleague by text that Mr. Page was not a C.I.A. source, but rather a subsource of someone else who had talked to the agency.

In arguing for prison time on Friday, prosecutors suggested that Mr. Clinesmith’s explanation made no sense and suggested that he must also have known he was misleading his colleagues, pointing to evidence that he wanted to avoid the F.B.I. having to explain to the court why it had omitted that fact of Mr. Page’s help to the C.I.A. from all the applications.

But Judge Boasberg said that based on the record, he believed Mr. Clinesmith’s version.

Judge Boasberg is also the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which handled the disputed wiretaps of Mr. Page, although he did not personally sign off on any of them. After the disclosures, Judge Boasberg ordered the F.B.I. to review all other wiretap cases Mr. Clinesmith had been involved with and the bureau adopted more stringent rules for its national security wiretap applications.

Mr. Page spoke at the hearing, which was conducted by video and teleconference because of the pandemic. Mr. Page said he had been harmed by the invasion of his privacy and public knowledge that he was under scrutiny as part of the Russia investigation, including losing friendships and receiving death threats.

Mr. Page emphasized that it became publicly known that he was being investigated as part of the inquiry into whether Trump associates had conspired with Russia in its 2016 election interference — which Mr. Page termed a “manufactured scandal.”

Judge Boasberg later suggested that the intelligence court may well have approved the last wiretap extension even if it had been told about the C.I.A. issue, citing the numerous other flaws in the applications.

Notably, Mr. Page did not ask Judge Boasberg to impose prison time on Mr. Clinesmith. He also volunteered to serve as a “friend of the court” in future surveillance court matters, citing his own civil liberties experiences as a target of surveillance since deemed improper. (The Justice Department has said it no longer believes the full range of evidence available to it by the final two extensions met legal standards to invade Mr. Page’s privacy.)

Mr. Clinesmith also spoke, expressing contrition for what he portrayed as a failure of judgment and talking about the effect of losing his job and reputation. His list of apologies included one to his wife — who is pregnant with their first child — for the stress and loss of his $150,000 income, and one to the F.B.I. for bringing public opprobrium upon it and for the extra work colleagues had to do in remedial actions.

“I apologize to everyone,” he said.

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