Hillary Clinton emails: FBI denies accusations of ‘pay for play’ arrangement with state department

A top State Department official, Patrick Kennedy, was accused of attempting to get the FBI to downgrade a 'classified' email to ‘unclassified'

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A top state department official has been accused of bribing the Federal Bureau of Investigation relating to Hillary Clinton’s “misuse” of emails on her personal server.

Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, was accused by another unnamed official of offering to place more FBI agents in more countries if the FBI agreed to downgrade emails in Clinton’s personal, unsecured server from “classified” to “unclassified”.

Whether or not the emails in question were classified was important, as FBI director James Comey announced that there just over 100 classified emails sent and received via Ms Clinton’s personal server. 

Ms Clinton has always maintained that she “regrets” the misuse but has never knowingly sent or received classified emails via her personal server.

An unidentified official from the records management deparment gave the interview with the FBI on the matter, during which he said he was informed of the alleged bribery by a member of the international operations division. 

Notes from the interview have been released as part of the intelligence agency’s public documents relating to its now closed investigation into how and when Ms Clinton sent emails with important information in an unsecured fashion.

The FBI has denied the accusations of bribery which allegedly took place in late June or early July last year. The claims were also denied by the state department.

“This allegation is inaccurate and does not align with the facts. 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 deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

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“Undersecretary 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.”

In another interview from the same batch of released notes, it said that the FBI brought up the request of getting more agents in Iraq, not Mr Kennedy. Mr Toner said no more agents were placed in Iraq as a result of the conversation between the FBI and Mr Kennedy.

In the released interview notes between the FBI and the unnamed official, it stated that “[REDACTED] received a call from [REDACTED] of the International Operations Division (IOD) of the FBI, who ‘pressured’ him to change the classified email to unclassified. [REDACTED] 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 continued: “[REDACTED] advised that, in exchange for marking the email unclassified, STATE would reciprocate by allowing the FBI to place more Agents in countries where they are presently forbidden.”

Mr Kennedy was accused of putting more pressure on the FBI by going to see Michael Steinbach, the assistant director of the counterterrorism division, but Mr Steinbach reportedly refused to downgrade the emails.

In a press call on Monday morning, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook insisted that disputes over the classification of emails between the state department and other agencies were “well known” and were “not unusual”.

In a statement, the FBI said the unnamed official who gave the interview had since retired.

“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 statement said. 

“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.”

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“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.”

Donald Trump tweeted that the allegations of bribery were “unbelievable”. 

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He said at the second presidential debate that, if he was elected, he would ask the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Ms Clinton and the FBI’s investigation of her emails.

House speaker Paul Ryan said: “Moreover, a senior State Department official’s attempt to pressure the FBI to hide the extent of this mishandling bears all the signs of a cover-up.”

Mr Comey defended the FBI investigation in late September. He said Ms Clinton had shown “extreme carelessness” in July, but said he would not recommend the Justice Department to prosecute the Democrat.

She was cleared of any criminal charges and the investigation is closed.