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 departments most senior manager, appears in the latest release of interview summaries from the FBIs year-long investigation into Clintons sending and receiving classified government secrets via her unauthorized server.
Although the FBI decided against declassifying the emails contents, the claim of interference added fuel to Republicans belief that officials in President Barack Obamas 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 Clintons 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 FBIs 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 departments office of legal counsel called him to question the FBIs ruling that the information was classified but the FBI stood by its decision.
Soon after that call one of the officials FBI colleagues received a call from Kennedy in which Kennedy asked his assistance in altering the emails 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 countrys 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 FBIs 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 emails 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 bureaus 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, were 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.
The FBI also confirmed both topics were raised in the same conversation, and that the FBI official who discussed the email and Iraq with Kennedy had since retired. 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 to investigators of unusual pressure not to mark information as classified in Clintons emails last year. According to earlier documents the FBI released in September, 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 Clintons emails ahead of their public release.
A summary released on Monday showed at least two other state department officials making similar allegations.
One official who worked in the state departments office that deals with freedom of information requests told investigators they felt intimidated by senior department officials if they suggested any of Clintons emails on Benghazi contained classified information, and named Kennedy as one of the officials who pressured employees to not label anything as classified.
The state department has said these allegations are also false.
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.
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