Law & the Courts

FBI Lawyer Found Guilty of Forgery in Trump-Russia Probe Restored to ‘Good Standing’ by D.C. Bar

FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

A former senior FBI lawyer who was found guilty of forgery in the Trump-Russia probe has been restored to “good standing” status by the District of Columbia Bar Association despite not fully completing his probation sentence, RealClearInvestigations reported Thursday.

The bar had a record of repeatedly accommodating Kevin Clinesmith, a now convicted felon who pleaded guilty in August 2020 to falsifying a document that was the basis for a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign official Carter Page.

After receiving a 12-months probation sentence, which he first agreed to, Clinesmith was expected to have his attorney designation stripped. However, the D.C. Bar did not pursue that course of action, despite long-standing precedent surrounding lawyers committing crimes in legal matters.

The bar did not proactively pursue disciplinary action against him either, until five months had passed since he pleaded guilty and RealClearInvestigations had raised media awareness of the scandal. Following the public attention, the bar then conducted a review of Clinesmith’s case, temporarily suspending him in the meantime.

The court that presides over the bar association granted Clinesmith a mild penalty of suspension with time served in September. He was prohibited from practicing law for one year until August 2021, after which he became an “active member” in “good standing” again. However, the bar never confirmed whether Clinesmith had fulfilled his probation time or met the community service requirement before reinstating his title, records obtained by RealClearInvestigations indicate.

Clinesmith was intimately involved in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 Trump campaign. Given that an investigation into the origins of  that “Russiagate” probe is now underway, under the auspices of special counsel John Durham, Clinesmith could potentially be the next target.

Usually the bar immediately suspends the license of lawyers who plead guilty to a felony, making it most unusual that the association dragged its feet on Clinesmith for months. The bar’s bizarre behavior continued when it turned a blind eye to Clinesmith blatantly violating the requirement to report his guilty plea “promptly” to the court within ten days of entering it. He delivered it five months later instead, which his attorney claimed was a mere error, RCI reported.

“I did not see evidence that you informed the court,” Rebecca Smith, told Clinesmith during his bar court hearing.

While the Michigan Bar, where Clinesmith is also licensed, showed less mercy by automatically suspending him for two years and imposing a $1,037 fine the day he pleaded guilty, the D.C. bar’s treatment of his case was notably more lenient.

“[T]he panel found that respondent engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the proper administration of justice [and] exposed the legal profession or the courts to obloquy, contempt, censure or reproach,” the Michigan panel said of Clinesmith, according to RCI. His actions were “contrary to justice, ethics, honesty or good morals; violated the standards or rules of professional conduct adopted by the Supreme Court; and violated a criminal law of the United States,” the court added.

Furthermore, the D.C. bar did not seek “reciprocal discipline” for Clinesmith as is standard, opting not to permanently revoke his license or sanction him in the future for his unethical conduct.

At the heart of Clinesmith’s crime was the fact that he doctored an email to state that Page was “not a source” for the CIA when the opposite was true. By omitting the crucial detail, that Page had lawfully collaborated with the CIA as an “operation contact” to provide the agency information for years, the FBI proceeded with electronically monitoring Page as a possible Russian spy.

During Clinesmith’s hearing, the bar enforcers had said the former FBI official’s “misconduct has been used to discredit what appeared otherwise to have been a legitimate and highly important investigation” of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of then candidate Donald Trump.

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