State Department officials were so concerned about one email that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton sent over an unsecured personal account that they considered a “quid pro quo” with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to persuade the FBI to retroactively change the email’s classification level, documents released Monday show.
It is unclear from the heavily redacted documents whether the suggestion of a tradeoff originated with the State Department or the FBI. However, it arose during the FBI’s assessment of emails that were transmitted over the unsecured personal email system that Clinton used during her four years as secretary of state, and involved Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy and several FBI agents and supervisors.
It appears that Kennedy and FBI personnel were both willing to explore the possibility of swapping the FBI’s agreement to change the document’s classification for the State Department’s support in allowing more FBI agents to be stationed in specific countries where they were not currently allowed.
However, the plan appears to have fallen apart when an FBI agent involved in making the classification decisions declined to play along.
An unnamed agent, in a transcript of an interview, expresses the opinion that “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 email in question referred to the possible arrest of suspects in the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 -- something Republicans have repeatedly tried to blame on Clinton. While there is no evidence to suggest that Kennedy was working on Clinton’s behalf when he attempted to convince the FBI to change the classification last summer, it clearly would have been in the interests of the Clinton campaign if she were not found to have transmitted secret information about Benghazi on her personal server.
Both agencies released statements denying that a discussion of a quid pro quo had taken place.
“A senior State Department official requested the FBI re-review that email to determine whether it was in fact classified or whether it might be protected from release under a different FOIA exemption,” an FBI statement said. “A now-retired FBI official, who was not part of the subsequent Clinton investigation, told the State Department official that they 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.”
A State Department spokesperson likewise said that suggestions that there was a quid pro quo were “inaccurate.”
He added, “We have been committed to releasing as much information to the public as possible, and ensuring that documents are withheld due to classification only when necessary to prevent damage to national security -- as the Executive Order on classification calls for.”
Predictably, the news quickly spilled over into the presidential race, where Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his supporters pounced.
“These FBI documents provide undeniable proof that Hillary Clinton colluded with the FBI, DOJ and State Department to cover up criminal activity at the highest levels,” said Trump surrogate retired U.S. Army Lt. General Michael Flynn. “Hillary Clinton has recklessly put our national security at extreme risk. We have men and women putting their lives on the line for this country. If any person had done a fraction of what she has done with our sensitive information they would be criminally charged and those in our military would be court-martialed. Hillary Clinton acts as though she is above the law and therefore, she is not fit to serve as Commander in Chief.”