- FBI releases interview summaries citing State Department staff
- Exchanges also suggest a proposed ‘quid pro quo’ on e-mails
A State Department team responsible for determining which records should be kept secret felt “immense pressure” not to label any of about 300 e-mails found on Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server as classified, according to interview summaries released by the FBI.
Officials from the State Department’s Information Programs and Services office began a review in March 2015 of 296 e-mails that were set to be turned over to a House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
“IPS felt immense pressure to complete the review quickly and not label anything as classified,” according to interview notes from a State Department official whose name wasn’t disclosed in the FBI summary.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday released 100 pages of redacted interview notes, known as 302s, the latest batch of summaries made public from its inquiry into Clinton’s use of private e-mail for official business while secretary of state. She has called using the private system a “mistake,” but her Republican opponent Donald Trump has said it’s a crime and told her in the second presidential debate that “you’d be in jail” if he wins on Nov. 8.
In 2015, a possible “quid pro quo” with the FBI over one disputed e-mail was discussed with Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of State for management, according to another person interviewed by the FBI. “In exchange for marking the email unclassified, STATE would reciprocate by allowing the FBI to place more Agents in countries where they were presently forbidden,” according to the person, who also wasn’t named.
A second interview summary indicated that under the proposal made to Kennedy, the State Department would back “the FBI’s request to increase its personnel in Iraq” in exchange for looking into the e-mail, which it said was related "to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi” that killed four Americans.
Kennedy wanted to reclassify the document under a Freedom of Information Act provision relating to geological wells, which would allow him “to archive the document in the basement of DoS never to be seen again,” the second person interviewed said.
The FBI said in a statement Monday that “a now-retired FBI official, who was not part of the subsequent Clinton investigation" discussed the e-mail’s classification as well as “a pending, unaddressed FBI request for space for additional FBI employees assigned abroad,” but that one offer wasn’t contingent on the other.
A State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, told reporters, “The allegation of any kind of quid pro quo is inaccurate and does not align with the facts.” He said the State Department did upgrade the document to a classified status at the FBI’s request and no increase in FBI slots in Iraq resulted from the discussion.
In a video statement posted Monday, Trump said the State Department, the FBI and the Justice Department conspired to protect Clinton.
“This shows corruption at the highest level,” Trump said. “This is collusion between the FBI, Department of Justice, and the State Department to try and make Hillary Clinton look like an innocent person when she’s guilty of very high crimes.”
On the pressures exerted on the Information Programs and Services review team, the FBI summary said its members were told that there wasn’t anything classified in the e-mails and therefore they shouldn’t use what is known as a B(1) exemption from the Freedom of Information Act to withhold information, according to the summary of the interview with the State Department official.
Invoking an exemption would have made it clear that some information in the e-mails was classified -- which went against the public narrative that Clinton and her top aides presented when it first became public that the former secretary of state relied exclusively on a private e-mail address and a server in the basement of her home in Chappaqua, New York.
“IPS officials felt intimated when they used or suggested the use of the B(1) exemption on any of the 296 emails,” according to the notes. Undersecretary Kennedy was cited as among those “who pressured IPS employees to not label anything as classified.”
The FBI summaries also indicated that “a powerful group of very high-ranking State officials,” referred to as “The Shadow Government,” met every Wednesday afternoon to discuss all things related to releasing or withholding e-mails that were on Clinton’s server, according to the interview notes.
The group included Kennedy and Jonathan Finer, who serves as current Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff, according to the notes.
“It is well-known that the Department faces significant challenges with respect to its large FOIA and Congressional production obligations,” Toner, the State Department spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement on the nature of those gatherings. He said it was “standard” for department staffers to coordinate with one another, share information and allocate resources.
“Officials involved in these coordination meetings do not operate behind the scenes. These are some of the most visible officials in the Department’s leadership, including many who are Senate-confirmed,” Toner said.