How hard did the State Department try to protect Hillary Clinton after her e-mail server was exposed? According to new documents released yesterday by the FBI, a longtime Clintonista who remained after Hillary left offered the FBI a “quid pro quo” to declassify one e-mail. In exchange, this high-ranking political appointee would set up access at State facilities for FBI personnel, allowing them to open more highly coveted overseas jobs. Fox’s Catherine Herridge and Pamela Browne reported yesterday that Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy — whose involvement with the Clintons goes back decades, and whose actions in the security decisions related to the Benghazi attack have been under question for years — pushed the “quid pro quo”:
FBI interview summaries and notes, provided late Friday to the House Government Oversight and Intelligence Committees, contain allegations of a “quid pro quo” between a senior State Department executive and FBI agents during the Hillary Clinton email investigation, two congressional sources told Fox News.
“This is a flashing red light of potential criminality,” Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who has been briefed on the FBI interviews, told Fox News.
He said “there was an alleged quid pro quo” involving Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy and the FBI “over at least one classified email.”
“In return for altering the classification, the possibility of additional slots for the FBI at missions overseas was discussed,” Chaffetz said.
The FBI released a statement with the documents, produced under a FOIA action. In their statement, the FBI appears to say that the offer went the other direction — that their agent offered to help State out with the classification in exchange for the jobs, only to have that idea rejected by his superiors (emphasis mine):
“Prior to the initiation of the FBI’s investigation of former Secretary Clinton’s personal email server, the FBI was asked to review and make classification determinations on FBI emails and information which were being produced by the State Department pursuant to FOIA. 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. Following the call, the FBI official consulted with a senior FBI executive responsible for determining the classification of the material and determined the email was in fact appropriately classified at the Secret level. The FBI official subsequently told the senior State official that the email was appropriately classified at the Secret level and that the FBI would not change the classification of the email. The classification of the email was not changed, and it remains classified today. Although there was never a quid pro quo, these allegations were nonetheless referred to the appropriate officials for review.”
On the other hand, this looks like Kennedy didn’t bother to hide his attempts to apply pressure to the process, and was the initiating instigator of the “quid pro quo”:
— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) October 17, 2016
The FBI statement waters down this process, and leaves out another juicy little tidbit. Kennedy tried riding Steinbach to change the classification from SECRET/NOFORN without success, and finally asked whether the FBI would comment publicly on the matter. Steinbach told Kennedy that the FBI would make no public comment about the issue, after which …
… the Associated Press published the story within the hour. Former Secretary of State CLINTON appeared in front of the press shortly thereafter to deny having sent classified emails on her private e-mail server.
This State Department witness told the FBI that “State has an agenda which involved minimizing the classified nature of the CLINTON emails in order to protect State interests and those of CLINTON.”
The State Department called the reports “inaccurate,” although they didn’t specify exactly what the inaccuracies are. Their interest in minimizing these violations of the laws on protecting classified information and protecting Hillary has already been amply demonstrated over the past year and a half. Now we know that longtime Clintonista Patrick Kennedy spearheaded the effort, which should surprise no one at all. The bigger mystery is why FBI Director James Comey played along with it.
Update: Chris Cillizza wonders the same thing, and points out that it undercuts Comey’s conclusion that Clinton didn’t know what markings meant — at least indirectly:
Clinton’s explanation has now evolved to this: She didn’t know documents marked with a “c” meant they were classified and, therefore, she never knowingly sent or received classified material — with the emphasis on “knowingly.”
That’s a tough position to hold in light of Kennedy’s attempted quid pro quo, which suggests that at least some people at State were actively trying to fiddle with classification determinations made by the FBI.
It’s hard to square the idea of Kennedy offering a quid pro quo to the FBI regarding a classification decision and Clinton not even knowing that “c” on documents stands for “classified.” One suggests deep understanding of how the classification process works. The other, um, doesn’t. …
[T]his latest revelation adds more evidence to the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” argument that Republicans have long made about Clinton’s email set-up. The idea of setting up a quid pro quo when it comes to classifications of information will, for many people, confirm their suspicions that the government bureaucracy is simply protecting Clinton. If a State Department is offering a quid pro quo in this one exchange, can you imagine what they are doing off the books?
So far, there’s no evidence that Hillary asked Kennedy to push for this quid pro quo. But it doesn’t appear that the FBI wanted to find any, either.