Former FBI analyst Mark Tolson was sentenced this Friday to seven days in jail and a $500 fine for accessing the email account of Jack Burkman – the conservative lobbyist who attempted a smear campaign against former FBI Director Robert Mueller last year.
“I did what I did to try to protect Director Mueller,” said Tolson, who lost his job over the incident. “I’m terribly sorry.”
Tolson accessed the account through his wife, who previously worked for Burkman and knew his passwords. The couple printed out “emails of interest” and contacted a reporter when they discovered Burkman’s plans to publicly accuse Mueller of sexual assault. The reporter refused to publish the illegally-obtained emails.
“You can’t just rummage through other people’s accounts,” said US District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema. “This is actually a very serious offense…You’re lucky. Your wife is lucky. The government could have prosecuted her as well.”
Brinkema added a word of praise for the journalist who refused to publish Burkman’s emails: “I would commend whoever the media people are who turned it down,” he said. “You’re actually probably lucky you didn’t get an unethical media person.”
During the trial, assistant US Attorney Alexander Berrang recommended prison time for Tolson based on the fact that he attempted to take his information to the press rather than the FBI. The move also seems to be related to Tolson’s wife’s belief that Burkman owed her money.
To matter what the motive, this story is a key example of FBI arrogance. Mark Tolson believed he had the authority to violate Burkman’s constitutional rights just because he was a member of the FBI, and he deserves a far greater punishment than seven days in prison.
Law enforcement has extraordinary power and therefore requires extraordinary discipline and extraordinary punishment when those powers are abused.
Tolson, 60, will serve his short prison sentence after the holidays, followed by a year of probation and 50 hours of community service.
Editor’s note: The use of government special powers to spy on a private citizen without a warrant is intolerable. This many should be many years in jail for abusing his authority and violating Burkman’s Constitutional rights. He should be used as an example to let the FBI know that it, itself, is not above the law.