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Former FBI Lawyer To Plead Guilty In Trump Campaign Probe


U.S. Attorney John Durham has brought his first criminal action against a former FBI lawyer who helped in the Russia probe. Durham was appointed to look into how the Obama administration investigated Russian election interference in 2016. Here to tell us more about this case is NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi, Carrie.


SHAPIRO: So let's start with this former FBI lawyer. I understand he's going to plead guilty. Who is he, and what did he allegedly do wrong?

JOHNSON: His name is Kevin Clinesmith. He worked at the FBI for about four years. And one of his jobs was to help agents investigating the probe of Russian election interference four years ago. Clinesmith allegedly made a false statement by doctoring an email that was used to get court permission to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. The key issue here centers on whether the FBI had probable cause to believe that Page was acting as an agent of Russia. And this FBI lawyer, Clinesmith, didn't disclose Page may have had a prior relationship with the CIA. We're hearing that Clinesmith will plead guilty to a felony false statements charge. His lawyer says Kevin deeply regrets having altered the email. It was never his intent to mislead the surveillance court or his colleagues. But Kevin understands what he did was wrong and accepts responsibility.

SHAPIRO: There is a political cloud over this Durham investigation, and it could potentially influence the presidential campaign. So what's the reaction to this criminal charge been today?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Democratic sources of mine are pointing out that it doesn't seem like Kevin Clinesmith is cooperating against anyone else. That kind of cooperation, of course, would be a strong signal that somebody else might be charged with wrongdoing. And there's no hint from these charging documents, which are just five pages long, that any blockbuster is looming before Election Day. But my sources tell me John Durham is using a grand jury here in Washington. And he's asked to interview people like former Obama CIA Chief John Brennan. That hasn't happened yet, though. And as for the reaction from Republicans, the news was very welcome today at the White House. Here's what President Trump had to say.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So he is pleading guilty. Terrible thing. Terrible thing. The fact is they spied on my campaign, and they got caught. And you'll be hearing more.

SHAPIRO: Well, the president says we'll be hearing more. So where does this investigation go from here?

JOHNSON: Exactly what John Durham is doing is a closely held secret. People who have had contact with him think he's looking at whether the FBI was single-minded on Russia in a way that failed to consider some of the information it was getting was just plain wrong. I refer here to that dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Now, Attorney General Bill Barr says he expects John Durham to write a report and for that report to become public. The question is whether the Justice Department will try to release those findings before Election Day, November 3. And, of course, there are two Senate committees led by Republicans which are also busy investigating the Obama-era investigators. Sen. Lindsey Graham said recently he wants to call the former FBI director, Jim Comey, to testify in public next month before the election.

SHAPIRO: Well, speaking of the election, the intelligence community recently warned that Russia is working to attack the 2020 election. How does that fit into these investigations?

JOHNSON: You know, Ari, the intelligence community, the head of the FBI, they all agree Russia interfered in 2016 and that there was a legitimate basis for the Justice Department to investigate back then, despite what the president and the attorney general are now saying about spying on the Trump campaign. Russia is trying all over again to interfere in a serious way. So even with this expected guilty plea by the FBI lawyer, it doesn't change that Russia tampered four years ago or that the Trump campaign welcomed the help back then.

SHAPIRO: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.