A former FBI analyst will be spending just seven days in jail and paying a $500 fine for illegally accessing the email account of a conservative lobbyist.
Mark Tolson, who was sentenced Friday, told the judge he was only trying to protect former special counsel Robert Mueller from a potential smear campaign when he illegally copied the private emails of Washington lobbyist Jack Burkman.
The 60-year-old former FBI analyst pleaded guilty in a federal court in September to accessing Burkman’s account without authorization, a misdemeanor charge, as he attempted to derail his efforts to get information and hold a news conference to air sexual misconduct allegations against Mueller, Politico reported.
“It was because of the press conference, your honor,” Tolson told U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema at his sentencing Friday in Alexandria, Va., adding that he was motivated by a desire “to protect Director Mueller” from what he saw as false allegations by Burkman, who has been referred to as a conspiracy theorist.
The longtime FBI employee admitted that he had tapped into Burkman’s emails in October 2018 after he learned of a planned press conference in which the accusations against Mueller would be revealed.
FBI Agent and Cyber-Terrorist Mark Tolson is set to be sentenced in Federal Court today for hacking our emails
Others at the FBI used the material he turned over the them to obtain FISA Warrants against Jacob Wohl and me
The FBI is out of control
— Jack Burkman (@Jack_Burkman) December 20, 2019
Screenshots of the email messages were sent to an unnamed journalist, and Burkman’s password – which Tolson’s wife, Sarah Gilbert Fox, had access to, was also offered, though the journalist apparently turned it down.
“This is actually a very serious offense,” Brinkema told Tolson at his sentencing. “You’re lucky. Your wife is lucky. The government could have prosecuted her as well.”
Tolson’s attorney, Edward MacMahon Jr., pressed for no jail time, telling the judge that his client’s actions were “foolish” but he had already lost his job.
“He does not need to be punished any further,” MacMahon said.
The judge ordered that Tolson will have to do 50 hours of community service and will be on probation for a year but allowed him to serve his seven-day sentence after the holidays.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Berrang argued that Tolson’s motivation was not simply to protect Mueller but that he also had a personal issue with Burkman and his wife reportedly felt she was owed money. The fact that Tolson took the information he had gathered to a reporter rather than the FBI showed that there was more to his claim of thwarting the smear campaign against Mueller.
“There was no other motivation here other than to protect Mueller,” Tolson’s attorney insisted, noting that his client did go to officials within a day or two.
“The government makes a good point,” the judge said. “Why wouldn’t you go to the FBI instead of the press?”
“You can’t just rummage through other people’s accounts,” Brinkema told the former FBI analyst. “You had to have known better.”
The judge, a Clinton appointee, also praised the journalist contacted by Tolson for not acting on the information or accepting Burkman’s password.
“I would commend whoever the media people are who turned it down,” she said, telling Tolson that if Burkman’s private information had been published, he could have been looking at more serious charges. “You’re actually probably lucky you didn’t get an unethical media person.”
Meanwhile, Burkman has denounced the judge’s light sentence and vowed he would be seeking damages in an upcoming lawsuit.
What a disgrace our judicial system is. Mark Tolson gets 7 days. Can you imagine the jail time he would have gotten if I were a liberal?
The good news is that we will be suing him in federal court for extensive damages.
— Jack Burkman (@Jack_Burkman) December 20, 2019
“Can you imagine the jail time he would have gotten if I were a liberal?” he tweeted.
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