Claims of effort to protect Democratic candidate after bureau personnel complained that Obama administration officials tried to have emails declassified
A senior US state department official sought to shield Hillary Clinton by pressuring the FBI to drop its insistence that an email on the private server she used while secretary of state contained classified information, according to records of interviews with bureau officials.
The accusation against Patrick Kennedy, the state department’s most senior manager, appears in the latest release of interview summaries from the FBI’s year-long investigation into Clinton’s sending and receiving classified government secrets via her unauthorized server.
Although the FBI decided against declassifying the email’s contents, the claim of interference added fuel to Republicans’ belief that officials in President Barack Obama’s administration have sought to protect Clinton, a Democrat, from criminal liability as she seeks to succeed Obama in the 8 November election. The FBI recommended against bringing any charges in July and has defended the integrity of its investigation.
Clinton has admitted a mistake and apologized over her decision to use a private server in her home for her work as the US secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
One FBI official, whose name is redacted, told investigators that Kennedy repeatedly “pressured” the various officials at the FBI to declassify information in one of Clinton’s emails. The email was about the deadly 2012 attack on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya, and included information that originated from the FBI, which meant that the FBI had final say on whether it would remain classified.
A state department spokesman, Mark Toner, said Kennedy was not pressuring the FBI but trying to understand better how the FBI’s classification process worked.
The dispute began in the summer of 2015 as officials reviewed the roughly 30,000 emails Clinton returned to the state department ahead of their court-ordered public release in batches in 2015 and 2016.
The official said the state department’s office of legal counsel called him to question the FBI’s ruling that the information was classified but the FBI stood by its decision.
Soon after that call one of the official’s FBI colleagues received a call from Kennedy in which Kennedy “asked his assistance in altering the email’s classification in exchange for a ‘quid pro quo’.”
The FBI official said he also joined at least two discussions in which Kennedy “continued to pressure” the FBI about the email. The official said Kennedy appeared to be trying to protect Clinton by minimizing the appearance of classified information in emails from the server that Clinton used while she was the country’s most senior diplomat.
In a separate interview summary among the 100 pages released on Monday, another unnamed FBI official confirmed a discussion of a “quid pro quo”. He said Kennedy told him in a phone call that the FBI’s classification of the email “caused problems” for Kennedy. The official said he told Kennedy he would look into the email, which he had not yet seen, if the state department would consider allowing more FBI agents to be posted in Iraq in exchange.
The state department and the FBI both confirmed that a conversation about the email’s classification and an increase in FBI slots in Iraq took place, but both agencies said there was no “quid pro quo”.
After a year-long FBI investigation into the server the bureau’s director, James Comey, said in July he had found that while laws governing classified information may have been broken, no reasonable prosecutor would bring charges. He said, however, that Clinton and her staff had been “extremely careless” in handling information that had been classified to protect national security.
Toner, the state department spokesman, said there was “no quid pro quo” and told reporters that it was the FBI official who raised the possibility with Kennedy of allowing more agents in Iraq during the conversation about the email.
“After the conversation took place about the upgrading classification, at the end of that, there was a kind of, ‘Oh, by the way, hey, we’re looking at how we want more slots” in Iraq, Toner said, calling it a “clear pivot” in the topic of conversation. “No increase in FBI Iraq slots resulted from this conversation,” he said…
Source: The Guardian