It was an almost unbelievable story—fit for a spy novel, and among the most disturbing and consequential allegations of governmental abuse in recent history. The alleged abuse went right to the heart of our ability to participate in free and fair elections. But much of the U.S. media seems ready to forget about it.
On December 9 Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz reported that a critical piece of evidence used to obtain a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign associate in 2016 was falsified by an FBI lawyer.
Even before the release of the report, the New York Times had the scoop in November but buried it under a headline which suggested a sort of vindication for the FBI: “Russia Inquiry Review Is Said to Criticize F.B.I. but Rebuff Claims of Biased Acts; A watchdog report will portray the pursuit of a wiretap of an ex-Trump adviser as sloppy, but it also debunks some accusations by Trump allies of F.B.I. wrongdoing.”
“Sloppy” is a nice way of describing how a federal court was misled into turning surveillance powers against a U.S. citizen volunteering for the presidential campaign of the party out of power.
When the inspector general’s report arrived in December, it cast the falsified evidence as the most egregious on a long list of problems in the FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant applications targeting Trump supporter Carter Page :
We identified significant inaccuracies and omissions in each of the four applications—7 in the first FISA application and a total of 17 by the final renewal application… All of the applications also omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, including that Page had been approved as an operational contact for the other agency from 2008 to 2013, and that Page had provided information to the other agency concerning his prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers, one of which overlapped with facts asserted in the FISA application.
Mr. Page had been helping a U.S. intelligence agency collect information on the Russians. The FBI not only never told the court he was assisting the good guys—the bureau falsely presented some of his helpful activities as evidence he was helping the bad guys.
Before the last renewal for wiretap authority in 2017, after Mr. Page had disclosed his actual role in the press, Inspector General Horowitz reports that the FBI lawyer said Mr. Page had never had a relationship with the other U.S. government agency and “altered the email that the other U.S. government agency had sent” so that it appeared to state that Page had not been a source. The IG adds that the FBI lawyer then forwarded the doctored email to his supervisor. Shortly thereafter, the supervisor “served as the affiant on the final renewal application, which was again silent on Page’s prior relationship with the other U.S. government agency.”
Back in November, while leading with its absolution of FBI leadership, the Times reported that the FBI lawyer who allegedly altered the record is named Kevin Clinesmith. According to the Times:
… Mr. Clinesmith worked on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russia investigation. He was among the F.B.I. officials removed by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, after Mr. Horowitz found text messages expressing political animus against Mr. Trump.
Shortly after Mr. Trump’s election victory, for example, Mr. Clinesmith texted another official that “the crazies won finally,” disparaged Mr. Trump’s health care and immigration agendas, and called Vice President Mike Pence “stupid.” In another text, he wrote, in the context of a question about whether he intended to stay in government, “viva la resistance.”
Since then, the press pack seems to have lost interest. According to the Factiva news archive, in the last month only one story on Mr. Clinesmith has appeared in any of America’s 50 largest newspapers.
On December 31 Mr. Clinesmith made a brief appearance about a dozen paragraphs into a Washington Post report. The Post story featured an interview with a Times reporter attempting to explain why the Times presented the Horowitz report largely as a vindication of the FBI.
Mr. Clinesmith deserves the presumption of innocence just like every other American. Perhaps media outlets will decide he’s also deserving of a fraction of the coverage they devoted to promoting the FBI’s bogus claims.
Presiding Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued a public order on December 17 and noted the abuses described in the Horowitz report:
It documents troubling instances in which FBI personnel provided information to [the Department of Justice’s National Security Division] which was unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession. It also describes several instances in which FBI personnel withheld from NSD information in their possession which was detrimental to their case for believing that Mr. Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.
In addition, while the fourth electronic surveillance application for Mr. Page was being prepared, an attorney in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) engaged in conduct that apparently was intended to mislead the FBI agent who ultimately swore to the facts in that application about whether Mr. Page had been a source of another government agency.
This column is struggling to recall a more serious allegation of abuse of our democratic process by officials of the federal government.
Others may have a different view, so perhaps a survey is in order. In the comments section below this column, readers are invited to opine on which one of the following scenarios represents the greatest threat to American liberty:
A) After identifying a U.S. citizen volunteering for the U.S. presidential campaign of the party out of power, the FBI makes false claims and persuades a federal court that the citizen may be a Russian agent and should be subjected to electronic surveillance.
B) After observing a U.S. citizen obtain a Ukrainian company board seat for which he was manifestly unqualified while his father was running Ukrainian policy for the U.S. government—and in which capacity the father would later demand the firing of a local prosecutor investigating the son’s business associates—the U.S. President urges the government of Ukraine to investigate.