The increasingly nervous New York Times reported last week that ex-FBI Attorney Clinesmith would plead guilty (to altering an email to obtain a FISA warrant on Carter Page) as the liberal mainstream hemmed and hawed, with John Durham’s tight-lipped investigation finally showing signs of life. Being the New York Times, they spent most of their article lobbying the reader not to believe Clinesmith did anything wrong, or to see his forgery as something that matters. Clinesmith certainly did something wrong; what impact it had (other than authorizing the renewal) we don’t know yet, because there were three other warrants on Page that preceded it. But via the prescribed two FISA “hops” (allowing the FBI to spy on everyone Page contacted, and everyone they contacted), these warrants likely approved the surveillance of President Trump’s own personal communications and those of his campaign staff and later his cabinet, and even his family. I’ll give a rough background of this surveillance before getting into Clinesmith, who plead guilty on Wednesday.
To secure the original 2016 warrant, the FBI leaked alleged details of Page’s Moscow trip and the Steele “Dossier” to Yahoo News reporter Michael Isikoff, and circularly used Isikoff’s report on their own leak as the evidence to support their FISA application; but at this point, unlawful surveillance of Trump and his associates had already been happening for nearly four years, if not longer as I’ll explain shortly. In this timeline it began in 2012 when Obama’s intelligence apparatus launched a dragnet to build files on political targets by illegally mining the NSA database without probable cause, using FISA-702 searches; but this program had hit a bump in March 2016 when NSA Director Rodgers found out about it, and stopped it.
But former CIA and NSA contractor Dennis Montgomery claims that Brennan and Clapper spied on Trump for years under Obama using a supercomputing system named The Hammer, which was confirmed by Bill Binney following the “Vault 7” CIA leaks. Binney now attributes his initial disinterest in The Hammer to being mislead with incomplete information by Mike Zullo via Kevin Shipp. A federal judge has released tape of a billionaire real estate mogul, whose wife had a related business interest, telling Zullo and Sherriff Arpaio about this program which you can listen to here at 18:00 and hear analysis of here. The mogul on that tape says they tapped Trump’s calls “a zillion times”; Montgomery claims to have himself
provided to the FBI seventeen businesses of Donald Trump, including the Trump Tower, the Trump leasing programs, all of these different programs, and including Trump himself and the various family members that had been wiretapped under these programs … There has been a wiretap on Trump for years.
Now to put this in a new perspective, Binney told Hannity in 2017 that
“I think the FISA court’s basically totally irrelevant.”
The judges on the FISA court are “not even concerned, nor are they involved in any way with the Executive Order 12333 collection … That’s all done outside of the courts. And outside of the Congress.”
Binney told Fox the laws that fall under the FISA court’s jurisdiction are “simply out there for show” and “trying to show that the government is following the law, and being looked at and overseen by the Senate and House intelligence committees and the courts.”
“That’s not the main collection program for NSA,” Binney said.
If he’s right then that would apply to the FISA warrants on Trump as a candidate, meaning they were sought to legitimize info that had already been obtained, so they could use it in court; but the deep state’s reach after he took office isn’t publicly known. The 2012 dragnet likewise would have been purposed to launder data they’d already harvested with The Hammer.
Interestingly, Robert Mueller headed the FBI when this program to abuse NSA data was started, and Andrew Weissmann was his General Counsel. Montgomery says Mueller supplied Brennan and Clapper with the computers.
Returning to Carter Page
Because of the renewals, the 90-day Carter-Page-and-everyone-he-knows warrant was kept alive for an entire year and it was illegal the whole time: the CIA had told the FBI that Page was their source in August 2016, before the FBI identified Page as an “agent of a foreign power” in their October FISA application (the first one) based on Page’s contacts with Russian operatives, which is normal for a CIA source to have. The DOJ declared the last two Page warrants invalid in January, and declined for now to comment on the first two. Clinesmith had been instructed to find out if Page was a CIA source for the final renewal application. The forgery consisted of him inserting the phrase “is not a source,” referring to Page, into the CIA liaison’s email; she’d written in reply to check her message’s attachments, which documented Page’s history as a source. Page says he was a CIA source for decades.
Clinesmith’s sentencing will commence in December; the maximum for this crime would be five years, but the most common is 0-6 months and those were the terms of his plea bargain. They are very generous, as others have noted, in light of what he did–but as they have also noted, he is only being charged with one crime when there were multiple committed and it comes with a light sentence. The Daily Caller reports his plea is “part of a cooperation agreement with the government,” and onlookers have suggested that Weissmann’s strange behavior of late was driven by his fear of Clinesmith cooperating.
Shipwreck wrote a fine article about this (beneath which the comments are worth reading) in much greater depth than I would be able to, as I have no legal background and rely on news bits and others’ interpretations rather than reading through primary documents. This doesn’t stop me from forming my own opinions on what they write or evaluating the logic behind it within my limitations, and I see the Diary format as allowing some room to speculate, in moderation–which is what I’ll do here and in other Diaries.
I find it unlikely that Clinesmith committed this forgery of his own accord, and unusual that a junior employee would be tasked by the FBI and Special Counsel with a pivotal role in such a high-level criminal operation: overseeing the applications for search warrants targeting a sitting president, his cabinet and even his family, for made up reasons. Shipwreck contends his assignment, while surprising, “is not atypical in the Bureau where oftentimes the view is that agents/analysts/OGC attorneys are “fungible”. By training and procedures, all are equal to each other.”
This may be a common view at the FBI, but would they apply it while attempting a coup? Mueller hired “one of the most impressive groups ever assembled for a special counsel investigation” and the FBI sent him a young man with one year at the Bureau. I can’t imagine why they’d do this but to use Clinesmith as the “fall guy,” in which he’d be closely watched–if the forgery wasn’t his idea, he probably wouldn’t get away with it.
Weisman is arguing that a forgery can’t be a falsification unless the content of the forged statement is also false; and he has to know this isn’t true. He tweeted last week, rhetorically, that
Clinesmith is charged with adding the words “not a source” to an email about Carter Page, but no where does the charge say that is false, i.e. that Page was a source for the CIA. Without that, how is the addition “materially” false?
It’s “materially” false because he said the liaison wrote it when she didn’t, and in doing caused the FISA application to go forward: A “Materially false statement means any false statement, regardless of its admissibility under the rules of evidence, which could have affected the course or outcome of an official proceeding”. Clinesmith admitted in his plea to doing this on purpose but claims he had no *intention* to mislead, and thought Page was truly not a source but instead some kind of sub-source. This is a funny thing to say, as he plead guilty making a false statement *intentionally*, and there are lawyers who think it constitutes an invalid guilty plea. Clinesmith claims to have thought Page wasn’t technically a source, which is immaterial since its being a forgery is what made the statement false and he admits this was done intentionally. The judge made him clarify (“In other words, you agree you intentionally altered the email to include information that was not originally in the email?”) before pleading, but for many that isn’t good enough.
CNN relayed his lawyer’s claim with no questions asked: “Clinesmith altered the email to suggest that Page had never been a government source in the past, an error his lawyer insisted in a statement was a simple mistake with no malicious intent.”
Again, whether Clinesmith thought the content of his forgery was accurate is no matter; he knew the person he attributed it to did not write it and that is both the intent and the falsification specified by the charge. CNN has to know this! Even had he thought “that’s what she meant to say,” it would not permit the crime or make it a mistake.
Lastly, whoever wrote Mueller’s report went out of their way to distance themselves from Clinesmith, footnoting that the SCO’s
“assigned” FBI employees [includes Clinesmith] remained under FBI supervision at all times; the matters on which they assisted were supervised by the Special Counsel …
FBI personnel assigned to the Special Counsel’s Office were required to adhere to all Department and FBI regulations, guidelines, and policies. An FBI attorney worked on FBI-related matters for the Office, such as FBI compliance with all FBI policies and procedures, including the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG). That FBI attorney worked under FBI legal supervision, not the Special Counsel’s supervision.
As Shipwreck explained, “the Mueller Report wants everyone to believe that while Clinesmith was assigned to the SCO, he was not ‘supervised’ by the SCO — at all times he remained under the ‘FBI legal supervision’ according to the Report. What is noticeably missing is any explanation as to how that was possible since the SCO operated independent of DOJ.”
But *if* Clinesmith was under FBI supervision and someone else told him to alter the email, then that someone was probably FBI.
This was the first of Durham’s indictments and as President Trump said after the plea was leaked, it’s “only the beginning.”
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