What!, Another Attempted Hillary Email Coverup?
(Credit: Thos Fluharty)
A senior State Department official repeatedly pressed the FBI to change the classification of emails stored on Hillary Clinton's private server, according to FBI interview summaries set to be released in the coming days. Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, discussed providing additional overseas slots for the FBI in exchange for revisions to classifications of the sensitive emails.
The 34 summaries, known as FBI "302s," will be released in connection with a Freedom of Information Act request and after pressure from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Two additional 302s are being withheld because they contain information classified at the Top Secret/SAP level.
The summaries, described to THE WEEKLY STANDARD by five intelligence and congressional officials familiar with their contents, are sure to bolster Donald Trump's criticism of corruption at Clinton's State Department, the FBI and Washington, D.C., with just more than three weeks until the 2016 presidential election.
The story about potential reclassification of Clinton emails unfolds over three of the summaries. A senior FBI official in the international operations division describes conversations with Kennedy about the classification of emails. In his interview, this official says his section of the FBI had attempted to contact Kennedy repeatedly over the course of several months in the spring of 2015. Kennedy did not return the calls. In the late spring or early summer of 2015, the FBI official reported to work surprised to find a note indicating that Kennedy had called.
According to the summary, Kennedy wanted help. The FBI official spoke with Kennedy and Kennedy raised the possibility of keeping at least one Clinton email from public disclosure by obtaining a "B9" exemption under the Freedom of Information Act, a rarely used exemption that refers to "geological and geophysical information and data." One email in particular concerned Kennedy and, according to the FBI summary, providing a B9 exemption "would allow him to archive the document in the basement of the department of state never to be seen again." The FBI official told Kennedy that he would look into the email if Kennedy would authorize a pending request for additional FBI personnel in Iraq.
A summary of an interview with the section chief of the FBI records management division provides further evidence of Kennedy's attempts to have the classification of some sensitive emails changed. The FBI records official, whose job includes making determinations on classification, told investigators that he was approached by his colleague in international operations after the initial discussion with Kennedy. The FBI records official says that his colleague "pressured" him to declassify an email "in exchange for a quid pro quo," according to the interview summary. "In exchange for making the email unclassified State would reciprocate by allowing the FBI to place more agents in countries where they are presently forbidden." The request was denied.
In the days that followed, the FBI records official attended an "all-agency" meeting at the State Department to discuss the ongoing "classification review of pending Clinton FOIA materials." One of the participants at the meeting asked Kennedy whether any of the emails were classified. Kennedy purposely looked at the FBI records chief and then replied: "Well, we'll see."
After the all-agency meeting, the FBI records section chief met privately with Kennedy. According the FBI interview summary, he reported that "Kennedy spent the next 15 minutes debating the classification of the email and attempting to influence the FBI to change its markings."
The FBI records section chief also told investigators that he sat in on a conference call between Kennedy and FBI Counterterrorism chief Michael Steinbach. Kennedy again pressured Steinbach to change an email from classified to unclassified. Steinbach declined.
There is no indication in the FBI interview summaries that Kennedy was directed by Hillary Clinton or her campaign to attempt to reclassify or hide emails. Kennedy has been a central figure in the Benghazi and email controversies. He was involved in the controversial decisions not to bolster security at the Benghazi diplomatic outpost despite repeated requests for addition security. And although Kennedy is responsible for ensuring State Department compliance with federal records requirements, he communicated regularly with Clinton using her private email. In a sworn deposition in connection with Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by Judicial Watch, Kennedy testified that he exchanged dozens of emails with Clinton and never thought to ask how the private emails would be archived in a manner consistent with federal law. "It's not something that I ever focused on," Kennedy testified.
The information in the FBI 302s involves other aspects of Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State:
- On one trip to Asia, according to a diplomatic security officer, Clinton "frequently and blatantly," ignoring their instructions on which vehicle was designated to transport her. In one instance, Clinton disregarded the security recommendations of her detail in order to participate in an event to promote clean cookstoves. In doing this, the official alleged that she put "her staff, the media, and her security detail in unnecessary danger for a photo opportunity for her election campaign."
- Clinton diplomatic security officials told the FBI they were frustrated by Clinton's unwillingness to abide by rules forbidding electronic equipment in "Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities" or SCIFs. Clinton routinely brought her Blackberry and other electronic devices into the secure facilities despite prohibitions against doing so.
- Clinton's personal and campaign teams convinced the State Department to allow an outside team of lawyers to make decisions on FOIA requests. The outside team was referred to a "shadow government" and circumvented the normal FOIA procedures at the State Department.
"There are at least four topics that demand further investigation and public hearings," says Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "It does beg the question if they purposely delayed Congress seeing this information. It happens to be some of the most outrageous – if not illegal – behavior we've seen to date."
Update: The FBI responds with a statement: