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Ex-FBI lawyer to plead guilty in Trump-Russia probe review

FILE - In this March 22, 2019 file photo, an American flag flies outside the Department of Justice in Washington.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
FILE - In this March 22, 2019 file photo, an American flag flies outside the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – A former FBI lawyer plans to plead guilty to making a false statement in the first criminal case arising from U.S. Attorney John Durham's investigation into the probe of ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign, his lawyer said Friday.

Kevin Clinesmith is accused of altering a government email about a former Trump campaign adviser who was a target of secret FBI surveillance, according to documents filed in Washington's federal court. His lawyer, Justin Shur, told The Associated Press that Clinesmith intends to plead guilty to the single false statement count and that he regrets his actions.

The case against Clinesmith was cheered by President Donald Trump and his supporters as they look to the Durham investigation to lift Trump's wobbly reelection prospects and to expose what they see as wrongdoing as the FBI opened an investigation into whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with the Kremlin to sway the outcome of the 2016 election.

“The fact is they spied on my campaign and they got caught,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. His political campaign issued its own statement saying “abuses of power” in the Russia investigation “represent the greatest political crime in American history” and everyone involved should be held accountable.

Yet the five-page charging document is limited in scope and does not allege criminal wrongdoing by anyone other than Clinesmith, nor does it offer evidence to support Trump's assertions that the Russia probe was tainted by widespread political bias in the FBI. It makes clear that the FBI relied on Clinesmith's own misrepresentations as it sought to renew its surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

The Durham probe, which is also examining the intelligence community's assessment about Russian election interference, has caused concern among Democrats, who view it as a politically charged exercise meant to relitigate an already closed investigation. They fear that charges or public reports issued so close to the 2020 election could be timed to affect November's vote.

The investigation has proceeded alongside a parallel effort by Senate Republicans to discredit the Russia probe and as Attorney General William Barr has escalated his own criticism of the FBI's probe. Documents released in recent months have called into question the validity of information the FBI relied on, particularly from a dossier of Democratic-funded research, when the agency applied for applications to surveil Page.

Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, had no comment, a spokesman said. It remains unclear what additional charges, if any, Durham might bring, though he has been closely scrutinizing how intelligence agencies arrived at the conclusion that Russia had interfered in 2016 to benefit Trump.