National Security

FBI officials allege ‘quid pro quo’ in Clinton emails

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A State Department official pressured the FBI to alter the classification of an email regarding possible arrests in the Benghazi attacks because it “caused problems,” FBI officials told investigators during the agency’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server.

{mosads}The two unnamed officials reported an alleged quid pro quo arrangement with the State Department, under which the FBI would change the classification the document in exchange for expanded authorities in Iraq.

Both the FBI and State Department have pushed back fiercely on the allegations, characterizing the law enforcement agency’s request for further personnel overseas as a separate matter.

Prior to the server investigation, the State Department asked the FBI to review and make classification determinations on several of Clinton’s emails being reviewed for release by the State Department under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

According to documents released Monday, the FBI determined one of the emails it reviewed to be classified. FBI officials told investigators that during that process, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy petitioned officials to declassify the Benghazi document and place it under a FOIA exemption known as “B9,” which “would allow him to archive the document in the basement of [the Department of State] never to be seen again.”

The email, from Nov. 18, 2012, remains classified and has since been made public with redactions.

The FBI did not increase its presence in Iraq as a result of this conversation, according to State Department spokesman Mark Toner. 

An agency official reported that he received a call from Kennedy, who told him that the classification of the email “caused problems.”

Not knowing the contents of the email, he said he told Kennedy he would look into the matter if the undersecretary would approve an FBI request for more personnel in Iraq.

An official in the FBI’s Records Management Division told investigators that the agent then called him and “pressured” him to change the classification of the email, indicating that if the FBI did so, Kennedy had offered him the authority to place more agents in countries where they were forbidden.

But the official who had the original conversation told investigators that once learning of the contents of the email, he called Kennedy back and said he could not help with changing the classification of the document. 

According to the Records Management official, Kennedy later presided over a meeting of multiple agencies, including the CIA, to discuss the classification of documents covered under the FOIA requests.

He recalled that during the meeting, “a participant specifically asked whether any of the emails in question were classified. Making eye contact with [name redacted], Kennedy remarked, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ ”

In a private meeting following the mutli-agency gathering, Kennedy “spent the next 15 minutes … attempting to influence the FBI to change its markings.”

The Records Management official, whose name has been redacted, told investigators that he “believes State has an agenda which involves minimizing the classified nature of the Clinton emails in order to protect State interests and those of Clinton.”

The conversations that Kennedy had with officials about downgrading the classification of the email in question are a normal part of the classification process, Toner said in a statement.

“This allegation [of quid pro quo] is inaccurate and does not align with the facts. To be clear: The State Department did upgrade the document at the request of the FBI when we released it back in May 2015,” Toner said.

“Classification is an art, not a science, and individuals with classification authority sometimes have different views. There can be applicable FOIA exemptions that are based on both classified and unclassified rules. We have an obligation to ensure determinations as they relate to classification are made appropriately.”

State did not address the FBI’s request for more personnel overseas.

This summer, the bureau concluded a yearlong investigation into how Clinton handled classified material on the private email setup she used while serving as secretary of State. The FBI’s director called her actions extremely careless but ultimately decided not to recommend criminal charges against the Democratic presidential candidate.

According to the FBI, a now-retired agency official who was not part of that investigation received a call from the State Department about the classification of the Benghazi email.

After advising the official that he would look into the matter, “having been previously unsuccessful in attempts to speak with the senior State official, during the same conversation, the FBI official asked the State Department official if they would address a pending, unaddressed FBI request for space for additional FBI employees assigned abroad,” according to a statement to Fox News.

“Although there was never a quid pro quo, these allegations were nonetheless referred to the appropriate officials for review,” the agency said.

Republicans have already seized on the allegations as a sign of wrongdoing on the part of the State Department.

“A senior State Department official’s attempt to pressure the FBI to hide the extent of [Clinton’s mishandling of classified information] bears all the signs of a coverup. This is why our aggressive oversight work in the House is so important, and it will continue,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement.

Prior to reading the documents, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told Fox that the allegations of quid pro quo were a “flashing red light of potential criminality” and grounds for at least “four hearings” after Congress’s current recess.

Updated 12:22 p.m.

Tags Hillary Clinton Jason Chaffetz Paul Ryan
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