FBI documents: US State Dept official 'pressured' FBI to declassify Clinton email

Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A senior official at the U.S. State Department tried to push the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2015 into dropping its insistence that an email from Hillary Clinton's private server contained classified information, according to summaries of interviews with FBI officials released by the FBI on Monday.

According to the records, an FBI official, whose name is redacted, told investigators that Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's most senior manager, repeatedly "pressured" the FBI to declassify information in one of Clinton's emails. The information in that particular email originated from the FBI, which meant that the FBI had the last word on whether it remained classified.

SEE ALSO: Conservative newspaper endorses Clinton and gets death threats

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, one of the official's colleagues at the FBI 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 government secrets in emails from the private server that Clinton used while she was secretary of state. The government forbids people from sending classified information via unsecured channels.

In a separate interview, another unnamed FBI official said Kennedy told him in a phone call that the FBI's insistence that the emails were classified "caused problems" for Kennedy. According to the interview summary, 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 the conversation about both the email's classification and that an increase in FBI slots in Iraq took place, but both said they were was no "quid pro quo."

Clinton, the Democratic candidate for the Nov. 8 presidential election, has faced steady criticism from Republicans over her use of the unauthorized server for her work as the country's most senior diplomat from 2009 to 2013.

After a year-long FBI investigation into the server, FBI Director James Comey said in July he 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 classified information.

The FBI released 100 pages of interview summaries on Monday, the fourth release of documents from its investigation.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said there was "no quid pro quo," and told reporters that it was the FBI official who raised the possibility with Kennedy of the State Department 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.

The FBI also confirmed both topics were raised in the same conversation. "Although there was never a quid pro quo, these allegations were nonetheless referred to the appropriate officials for review," the FBI said in its statement, which did not say what the outcome of the review was.

Other officials have made similar complaints of unusual pressure not to mark information as classified in Clinton's emails last year. According to earlier documents the FBI released last month, at least one official at the State Department told investigators that there was pressure by senior department officials to mislead the public about the presence of classified information in Clinton's emails ahead of their public release.

A summary released on Monday showed another official in the office of the State Department's inspector general making similar allegations.

The State Department has said these allegations are also false. About 30,000 emails Clinton that returned to the department after she left were released to the public in 2015 and 2016.

The State Department said the email Kennedy discussed with the FBI was related to the attack in 2012 on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

Ultimately, the FBI told Kennedy that declassification was not possible, according to the interview summaries, and the State Department posted it online last year marked as classified, with heavy redactions.

Clinton's Republican rival for the White House, Donald Trump, has accused her of jeopardizing national security while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

Trump responded to the allegations against Kennedy with a single-word message on Twitter, saying, "Unbelievable."

Trump has said Clinton "would be in jail" if he becomes president because of her mishandling of classified information.

Several Republican lawmakers called on President Barack Obama to investigate Kennedy and remove him from the department. Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee's chairman, said the president, a Democrat, was trying to "shield" Clinton.

"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," Priebus said in his statement.

Clinton has apologized for using the server, which she kept in the basement of her New York home, saying it was a mistake. In 2015 and earlier this year, she repeatedly said she never sent or received classified information via her server, but since the release of the FBI report in July she has said she relied on the judgment of her subordinates at the department.

Robby Mook, her campaign manager, told reporters on Monday it was "very well known that there were disputes" over classification.

"It's not uncommon for officials within a department to fight over classification," he said.