A top State Department official “pointedly asked” the FBI to declassify a Hillary Clinton email that the bureau had determined contained classified information about counter-terrorism operations, a State Department official told federal investigators.
That request, which was allegedly made in a meeting last May by Patrick Kennedy, State’s under secretary for management, was just one example of internal pressure at the State Department to not classify Clinton’s emails, the State official, who works in the office of information programs and services (IPS), told the FBI in an Aug. 17, 2015 interview.
The IPS official, whose name is redacted in interview notes released on Friday, said that he “believes there was interference” with the formal Freedom of Information Act review process.
Specifically, the official said that State’s Near East Affairs Bureau upgraded several of Clinton’s emails to a classified level, the report states. But two State Department officials, one of whom worked in the office of legal counsel, called the Near East Affairs Bureau and told them that instead of classifying the emails using what’s known as a B(1) exemption, “they could use a B(5) exemption.”
“However, the use of the B(5) exemption, which is usually used for executive privilege-related information, was incorrect as the information actually was classified and related to national security, which would be a B(1) exemption.”
Clinton and the State Department have pushed back against other federal agencies’ decisions to classify some of the former secretary of state’s emails. The classifications are seen as embarrassing for the candidate as well as her former employer. State has been accused of trying to provide political cover for Clinton, who sent hundreds of classified emails on her private email server.
In the FBI interview, the IPS official said that he did not know why he and others in IPS were not part of the review of 296 Benghazi-related emails that were to be turned over to the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
The official “was cut out of the loop for the material initially sent to Congress,” the notes read. He also “had no idea what kind of review” was being performed on the emails.
IPS handles the processing of congressional and Freedom of Information Act records requests.
The official pinpointed Kennedy’s comments during a meeting held in May 2015.
Following an interagency meeting in which CIA, FBI, White House and National Security Council officials were present, Kennedy held a closed-door session with several individuals, including one person from the Justice Department’s Office of Information Programs, the IPS official told the FBI.
“Kennedy pointedly asked [redacted] to change the FBI’s classification determination regarding one of Clinton’s emails, which the FBI considered classified,” the report states.
The email concerned counter-terrorism operations.
The IPS official’s statements about pressure to keep Clinton’s emails unclassified track closely with a Fox News report published weeks after the interview in which a whistleblower alleged that career officials were being pressured to downgrade classified Clinton emails.
According to that report, the whistleblower said that State’s legal advisers insisted that the emails be redacted but not classified, thus ensuring that the information would be kept secret from the public while allowing the State Department to claim that Clinton did not send or receive classified information while in office.
One of the officials alleged to have overridden the classification determinations was Catherine Duval.
Duval once worked at Williams & Connolley, the law firm where Clinton’s personal attorney, David Kendall, practices. Prior to joining State, Duval worked at the IRS, where she handled the case of Lois Lerner, the official who targeted conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.
The State Department denies assertions that requests regarding classification were made to help protect Clinton for political purposes.
“Claims actions were taken for political reasons are false,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told The Daily Caller in a statement.
“As has been reported, there have been discussions within the interagency on issues of classification. As we have noted previously, classification is an art, not a science, and individuals with classification authority sometimes have different views.”
He added that State is obliged to ensure that classification determinations are made appropriately.
“Throughout the FOIA release process, we have been committed to releasing as much information to the public as possible, and ensuring that documents are withheld due to classification only when necessary to prevent damage to national security — as the Executive Order on classification calls for,” he added.
Regarding Duval, Kirby said “she is an exceptional professional, and the Department and Secretary Kerry have full trust and confidence in her work at the Department.”
“As we have said before, the mere fact of previously working at a firm does not itself constitute a conflict of interest. Williams & Connolly is a large firm, and we are not aware that any counsel working on Clinton-related oversight matters at the Department did so prior to joining the Department,” he continued.
This article has been updated with additional comment from the State Department.