State Department tried to convince FBI during investigation to declassify emails
By Bonnie K. Goodman
The FBI released 100 more pages of the investigation into Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private server and it shows the State Department may have tried to influence the FBI to declassify an email. The FBI released the new pages on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, as per a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Congressional Republicans. The new documents include 302s, notes and summaries of the interviews the FBI conducted with State Department employees, contractors, and Clinton aides. Among the most glaring discoveries is one high ranking staffer tried to influence the FBI to declassify an email in exchange for a favor, prompting outcries of a “quid-pro-quo.”
The documents show that Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy repeatedly tried to force an FBI official from the International Operations Division (IOD) to declassify an email from Clinton’s private server only because it “caused problems.” The interview notes reveal, “Not yet knowing the email’s content, [the FBI official] told Kennedy he would look into the email in question if Kennedy would provide authority concerning the FBI’s request to increase its personnel in Iraq.”
One person interviewed felt “pressured” by the FBI to comply with Kennedy’s request. The interviews present contradictory evidence as to who requested the quid-pro-quo. One interviewee claimed the State Department offered it in exchange for helping the FBI “overseas in sensitive areas.” While, another said the FBI official was willing to do so if a “personal request in Iraq” was fulfilled.
One interviewee recounted that during a State Department meeting with government agencies, he responded about classified emails that went through Clinton’s server with a “well, we’ll see.” Later the interviewee saw Kennedy with FBI official recounting, “Kennedy spent the next 15 minutes debating the classification for the email and attempting to influence the FBI official to change its markings.” The State Department’s reasons were politically motivated as to help Clinton in her run for the presidency.
Despite Kennedy repeated pleadings, after consulting with the Counterterrorism Division, the FBI official decided to keep the email classified saying “there was no way” to declassify it. Kennedy would not back down and decided to go the head of the Counterterrorism Division, Michael Steinbach where he “pleaded” that the email remains unclassified. The notes say, “Steinbach refused to do so.”
The email in question was from Nov. 18, 2016, concerning “possible arrests” in the Benghazi, Libya terror attacks. The email was one of the first released by the State Department in May 2015, although it was heavily redacted. The FBI kept the email classified, and the statement did not increase FBI personnel in Iraq.
Both the FBI and State Department are vehemently denying the allegations. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner commented on Monday, “Classification is an art, not a science, and individuals with classification authority sometimes have different views,” Toner said. “There can be applicable FOIA exemptions that are based on both classified and unclassified rules. … 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.”
The FBI released their statement to deny the accusations. The statement read: “The FBI determined that one such email was classified at the Secret level. 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. 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.”
Despite the denials coming from the FBI, State Department and Obama Administration, Republicans do not believe a word. Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus commented Monday in a statement. Priebus said, “It is deeply troubling that a top State Department official close to Hillary Clinton offered the FBI a ‘quid pro quo’ to hide the full extent to which she mishandled classified information. The more documents that come out, the more we learn Hillary Clinton cannot be trusted with a job that is supposed to begin each day with a classified intelligence briefing.”