The State Department’s top career official pressured the FBI — unsuccessfully — to change the classification of a Benghazi-related email because it would cause him “problems,” an FBI official told the bureau during the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
The official, Patrick Kennedy, State’s under secretary of state for management, asked another FBI official to put a classification grade on the email which would allow him to “archive the document in the basement of [Department of State] never to be seen again.”
The revelations come in a new set of FBI notes released on Monday. The contents of the notes were first summarized by Fox News and The Weekly Standard over the weekend.
Kennedy’s involvement in the classification process was evidence that the State Department had “an agenda” to protect the agency and Clinton, an FBI records management section chief told investigators.
In his July 30, 2015 interview, the section chief said that six weeks prior to the interview, the State Department sent him five emails which the agency said contained “FBI equities.”
The official recognized that at least one of the emails contained information classified as “SECRET//NOFORN” and forwarded them to the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division.
A week later, someone at the State Department’s office of legal counsel called the FBI records official to question the classification of the emails. “SECRET” is the second-highest classification category. “NOFORN” means that the information cannot be viewed by foreign governments. The State Department lawyer said that the FBI did not have jurisdiction to classify the document, the FBI section chief told his colleagues.
The official said that he then received a call from someone with the FBI’s International Operations Division who “pressured” him to change the classification of the email.
The requester “indicated he had been contacted by Patrick Kennedy, Undersecretary of State, who had asked his assistance in altering the email’s classification in exchange for a ‘quid pro quo,'” the notes read.
The International Operations Division official said that Kennedy said the State Department would reciprocate “by allowing the FBI to place more Agents in countries where they are presently forbidden.”
After that exchange, the FBI’s records management chief was summoned to an inter-agency meeting held at the State Department and conducted by Kennedy to discuss the classification review of Clinton’s emails.
The section chief said that Kennedy put more pressure on him to change the classification.
“During the conversation, a participant specifically asked whether any of the emails in question were classified,” the notes read.
“Making eye contact with [redacted] Kennedy remarked, ‘Well, we’ll see.'”
“[Redacted] believed this was reference to the FBI’s categorization of the SECRET//NOFORN email which Kennedy was attempting to influence.”
In a smaller meeting held just after the inter-agency panel, Kennedy made his case once more for changing the email classification. He spent 15 minutes “debating the classification of the email and attempting to influence the FBI to change its markings.”
On Sept. 3, 2015, investigators interviewed the FBI official who was alleged to have discussed the quid pro quo.
In his interview, he said that Kennedy wanted the email de-classified because it “caused problems” for him.
“Kennedy told [redacted] that the FBI’s classification of the email in question caused problems for Kennedy and Kennedy wanted to classify the documents as ‘B9,'” the notes read.
B9 is a litte-used exemption for Freedom of Information Act documents for “geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.”
“Kennedy further stated that the ‘B9’ classification would allow him to archive the document in the basement of [Department of State] never to be seen again,” read the notes.
The notes then state that the FBI official, who did not at that time know the contents of the email, told Kennedy that he would look into the issue if Kennedy “would provide authority concerning the FBI’s request to increase its personnel in Iraq.”
The notes then state that the email in question “was related to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.”
After that conversation, the FBI official contacted Kennedy and told him that there was no way to assist him with the declassification.
There is no evidence that Hillary Clinton or her lawyers pressured Kennedy to quibble with the classifications. But Kennedy was frequently in touch with Clinton’s lawyers during that time, including Heather Samuelson, the Clinton lawyer who conducted the initial review of Clinton’s emails before they were given to the State Department.
The State Department issued a statement noting that it has been known that the agency quibbled with other agencies’ classification decisions on the Clinton emails.
“To be clear: the State Department did upgrade the document at the request of the FBI when we released it back in May 2015,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told CBS News.
“Under Secretary Kennedy sought to understand the FBI’s process for withholding certain information from public release. As has been reported, there have been discussions within the interagency on issues of classification. Classification is an art, not a science, and individuals with classification authority sometimes have different views. There can be applicable FOIA exemptions that are based on both classified and unclassified rules.”
The statement does not address the allegation that Kennedy wanted the email classification changed because it would cause him “problems.”
The FBI denied to CBS News that its agents engaged in a quid pro quo with the State Department over increased assets in Iraq.
But the bureau did state: “although there was never a quid pro quo, these allegations were nonetheless referred to the appropriate officials for review.”
The allegations of Kennedy’s and State’s interference in the Clinton email classification process are not the first to emerge from the FBI’s notes.
A State Department official working in the agency’s records management division made similar allegations in an Aug. 17, 2015 interview. (RELATED: Top State Dept. Official ‘Pointedly Asked’ FBI To Change Clinton Email Classification)
The new batch of FBI notes includes those from an interview with another State Department official who felt that Kennedy and the State Department’s legal office “pressured” email reviewers “to not label anything as classified.”