A former analyst for the FBI admitted Tuesday to copying the private emails of a conservative conspiracy theorist and sharing them with his superiors while his wife offered them to the press.
Mark Tolson, 60, pleaded guilty in federal court in Alexandria, Va., to one misdemeanor count of accessing without authorization the email account of lobbyist Jack Burkman. Burkman is identified in the court documents by the initials “J.B.”
Tolson’s wife, Sarah Gilbert Fox, worked for Burkman from October 2017 to early summer 2018 and had access to his email, according to a statement of facts. Tolson learned in October that Burkman, who gained prominence for conspiracy theories about the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, was planning a news conference claiming that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III committed sexual assault. The woman never appeared, and Mueller asked the FBI to examine claims that she was offered money to fabricate the accusation. Burkman has denied offering anyone money for testimony.
According to prosecutors, Tolson asked his wife to see whether she still had access to Burkman’s account, and they spent 15 or 20 minutes reviewing, photographing and printing “emails of interest.” When they tried to log in again, they were denied access.
Fox and Tolson both then contacted a reporter to share the information and offered to provide Burkman’s password. The reporter declined to accept the password.
On Nov. 1, 2018, Tolson emailed an FBI official to request a meeting on an “urgent” matter, according to the statement of facts. They met later that day, and Tolson handed over an envelope containing the emails, which he believed might be “illegal.”
Burkman’s partner in the Mueller stunt, a young conservative operative named Jacob Wohl, was recently charged with a felony in California in connection with a house-flipping scheme. Burkman was also the victim of another crime related to his conspiratorial work; last year a man he hired to investigate Rich’s death shot and nearly killed him after a falling out.
Tolson, who has left the FBI, agreed to forfeit two phones and two computers and avoid contact with Burkman, his neighbor in Arlington. He was released on bond until sentencing on Dec. 20. The charge carries a maximum sentence of one year.
Tolson’s attorney declined to comment on the case, as did spokespeople for the FBI and the Eastern District of Virginia.
“It’s very sad,” Burkman said Tuesday. “I feel sorry for his family. Let’s hope there is significant jail time here.”