The State Department and FBI are categorically denying that they negotiated any "quid pro quo" to declassify a Benghazi-related email found on Hillary Clinton’s private email server, as newly-released FBI documents show what was allegedly discussed.
The new documents, which are detailed notes of FBI interviews during the investigation into Clinton's private server, further describe how the State Department "pressured" other agencies into declassifying emails those agencies believed should have been kept secret. The documents were requested by Congressional investigators and became public today as part of an existing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Around spring of last year, under secretary for management at the State Department, Patrick F. Kennedy, called a now-retired official with the FBI’s International Operations Division (IOD). He asked for "assistance" in changing the classification of one email because it "caused problems" for him, according to notes of the FBI official’s interview with federal investigators.
"Not yet knowing the email’s content, [the FBI official] told Kennedy he would look into the email in question if Kennedy would provide authority concerning the FBI's request to increase its personnel in Iraq."
After checking with the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, Kennedy was told "there was no way" to help declassify the email, according to the IOD official’s interview notes.
But Kennedy didn’t back down. At one point, he took the matter directly to the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, Michael Steinbach, pleading with him to change the email’s classification, the notes said.
"Steinbach refused to do so," according to the notes.
The FBI notes and documents released today offer a different version of events than has been recounted in recent days, based on an FBI staffer’s second- or third-hand account of what he called a "quid pro quo" for declassifying the Benghazi-related email.
The staffer stated to the FBI in an interview that he believed the State Department was protecting Clinton. "[Redacted] believes STATE has an agenda which involves minimizing the classified nature of the CLINTON emails in order to protect STATE interests and those of CLINTON," the notes read.
Republicans have echoed the sentiment. "In return for altering the classification, the possibility of additional slots for the FBI at missions overseas was discussed," the head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told Fox News.
But the FBI's IOD official didn't offer to alter the classification -- he offered to look into whether the email should be declassified, according to notes of the FBI official’s interview with federal investigators.
In a statement Sunday, the FBI insisted "there was never a quid pro quo."
Furthermore, the FBI’s notes show that it was an FBI official who broached the subject of putting more agents in Iraq. Due to that third-hand account, which incorrectly states the attempted quid pro quo originated with Kennedy, Republicans are accusing the State Department of foul play.
"It is deeply troubling that a top State Department official close to Hillary Clinton offered the FBI a 'quid pro quo' to hide the full extent to which she mishandled classified information," Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus said in an emailed statement today. "The more documents that come out, the more we learn Hillary Clinton cannot be trusted with a job that is supposed to begin each day with a classified intelligence briefing."
The FBI official who alleged a quid pro quo based on second-hand information also stated to the FBI in an interview that he believed the State Department was protecting Clinton. “[Redacted] believes STATE has an agenda which involves minimizing the classified nature of the CLINTON emails in order to protect STATE interests and those of CLINTON,” the notes read.
Hillary Clinton's campaign said the email is an example of common disputes between agencies.
"It’s very well known that there were disputes within the state department, or rather between the state department and other agencies about classification," Robby Mook, Clinton's campaign manager told ABC News. "It’s not uncommon for official within a department to fight over classification this is something that took place entirely within the government and with the State Department so I’ll leave it to that to talk about that."
The FBI statement continues:
"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," the FBI said.
"The FBI official subsequently told [Kennedy] that the email was appropriately classified at the Secret level and that the FBI would not change the classification of the email," the agency's statement continued. "The classification of the email was not changed and it remains classified today."
And in another statement over the weekend, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said any allegation over a "quid pro quo" to declassify the email "is inaccurate and does not align with the facts."
"Under Secretary Kennedy sought to understand the FBI’s process for withholding certain information from public release," Toner said.
Kennedy’s request came in the midst of an intense debate within U.S. intelligence agencies over what information found on Clinton’s private server should be deemed classified. Intelligence and law enforcement officials still disagree on many of the determinations, and Clinton herself has yet to acknowledge that any of the emails found on her server contained classified information.