Intelligence Chair Calls for 'Abuse of Power' Investigation in State Dept. Handling of Clinton Email Classification

By Terence P. Jeffrey | October 17, 2016 | 6:04pm EDT
(AP Photo)

( - House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R.-Calif.) and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R.-Utah) wrote to the inspector general of the State Department today calling for him to “initiate an inquiry into apparent abuse of power by senior State Department personnel trying to influence classification determinations for emails sent or received by Secretary Clinton.”

The chairmen also wrote to current Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that he remove Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy “pending an independent and unbiased investigation into his conduct during the review of Secretary Clinton’s emails.”

“In the course of our committees’ ongoing oversight activities relating to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private server, new information indicates that Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy inappropriately pressured State Department and FBI reviewers to refrain from marking emails classified,” Nunes and Chaffetz said in their letter to Kerry.

“According to the FBI interview summaries, Under Secretary Kennedy allegedly went so far as to consider a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement where the State Department would trade a favor with the FBI in exchange for keeping an email unclassified,” the chairmen said.

The letters from Nunes and Chaffetz to the IG and Secretary Kerry followed the FBI’s release today of additional documents from its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for government business when she was secretary of State. The documents included official FBI summaries of interviews it conducted with individuals during the course of its investigation.

“The FBI interview summaries report that in the spring of 2015, Under Secretary Kennedy contacted a senior FBI official to request that FBI reverse its finding that one of Secretary Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails contained classified information,” said Nunes and Chaffetz in their letter to State Department Inspector General Steve Linnick.

“According to the papers, Undersecretary Kennedy assured the FBI official that the State Department would ‘bury’ the email using a rare Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exception (b)(9), which relates to geological and geophysical information.”

“The FBI official then reportedly proposed a ‘quid pro quo’ in which the FBI would downgrade the classification if the State Department supported allowing more FBI personnel into Iraq,” said the chairmen in their letter to the IG. “Undersecretary Kennedy did not reject the proposal, though the FBI official later withdrew his offer after reviewing the content of the email in question. A veteran diplomat like Kennedy should have been receptive to the FBI’s personnel needs without resorting to a bargain that could threaten national security information.”

At the State Department briefing today, Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said that Under Secretary Kennedy had had no discussion of any kind regarding a “quid pro quo” or “an exchange” with the FBI relating to the classification the FBI placed on the Clinton email in question.

“What did occur, just to clarify, Under Secretary Kennedy, Pat Kennedy, sought to understand the FBI’s process for withholding certain information from public release, and as all of you know throughout this process we were very clear in talking about at times, that this was the decision to upgrade or not upgrade certain parts of emails was a topic of discussion among our interagency colleagues--about whether certain information should or should not be upgraded in classification,” said Toner.

“And, as we also know, individuals with classification authorities often have, or sometimes have, different views on how to do that or whether something should be updated,” said Toner. “So, again, no quid pro quo, no exchange here, just simply a request from our Under Secretary Pat Kennedy to clarify the reasoning or the rationale behind upgrading.”

A bit later in the briefing, a report asked Toner: “There was no discussion of any quid pro quo?”

No. There was no discussion,” said Toner.

The reporter asked Toner: “Was there any discussion of any kind of an exchange with regard to classification procedures on the one hand and FBI slots at U.S. embassies abroad on the other?

“No,” said Toner.

Documents released by the FBI today included summaries of two interviews the FBI did with two of its own personnel.

One was an interview that took place on July 30, 2015 with an official of the FBI’s “Records and Management Division,” which handle the FBI’s processing of Freedom of Information Act requests.

According to the summary, this FBI official said the State Department sent him an email that “enclosed copies of 5 email communications from former Secretary of State HILLARY CLINTON’s private email account which STATE believed may contain ‘FBI equities.’ STATE requested the FBI conduct an appropriate classification review of the emails prior to their scheduled FOIA public release.”

The FBI officials who was interviewed, according to the summary, indicated that he sent the emails to the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division for review.

“Approximately 1 week later, STATE’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) contacted [REDACTED] and questioned the FBI’s SECRET/NOFORN determination,” says the summary.

The summary goes on to say: “[REDACTED] firmly believed based on his position as an Original Classification Authority (OCA), that the email was classified properly and accurately.”

“Shortly thereafter, [REDACTED], received a call from [REDACTED] of the International Operations Division (IOD) of the FBI, who ‘pressured’ him to change the classied email to unclassified,” says the summary. “[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.’ [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.”

“Following the above exchange,” the FBI summary continues, “[REDACTED] was summoned to an ‘all agency’ meeting at STATE to discuss matters pertaining to the classification review of pending CLINTON FOIA materials.

“[REDACTED] official from STATE, along with representatives from CIA, DIA and other government agencies were present,” says the summary. “PATRICK KENNEDY presided over the meeting. During the conversation, a participant specifically asked whether any of the emails in question were classified. Making eye contact with [REDACTED], KENNEDY remarked, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ [REDACTED] believed this was reference to the FBI’s categorization of the SECRET/NO FORN email which KENNEDY was attempting to influence.

“In a private meeting with KENNEDY following the all agency meeting,” the FBI summary of the interview continues, “KENNEDY asked [REDACTED] whether the FBI could ‘see their way to marking the email unclassified?’ According to [REDACTED] KENNEDY spent the next 15 minutes debating the classification of the email and attempting to influence the FBI to change its markings. Since [REDACTED] continued to assert that the email was  appropriately marked SECRET/NOFORN, KENNEDY asked who else in the FBI he could speak with on the matter. [REDACTED] referred KENNEDY to MICHAEL STEINBACH, Assistant Director of CTD.

“[REDACTED] was then present during a conference call involving KENNEDY and STEINBACH in which KENNEDY continued to pressure the FBI to change the classified markings on the email to unclassified,” the FBI summary continues. “STEINBACH refused to do so.”

On Sept. 3, 2015, according to a summary released today by the FBI, the agency interviewed an official with the FBI’s International Operations Division.

This person, according to the summary, said that in “May or early June” of that year he got a note that Patrick Kennedy had contacted him.

“When [REDACTED] returned Kennedy’s call, KENNEDY asked [REDACTED] assistance in changing a classification of FBI information contained in an e-mail,” says the summary.

“KENNEDY told [REDACTED] that the FBI’s classification of the e-mail in question caused problems for KENNEDY and KENNEDY wanted to classify the document as ‘B9,’” says the summary. “KENNEDY further stated that the ‘B9’ classification would allow him to archive the document in the basement of DoS never to be seen again. [REDACTED] was not sure of what Kennedy meant by ‘B9’ classification.”

“Not yet knowing the e-mail’s content,” says the FBI summary of this interview, “[REDACTED] told KENNEDY he would look into the e-mail matter if KENNEDY would provide authority concerning the FBI’s request to increase its personnel in Iraq.”

The FBI summary of this interview then said: “Following his conversation with KENNEDY, [REDACTED] contacted [REDACTED] to discuss the e-mail of concern. [REDACTED] told [REDACTED] the e-mail of Kennedy’s concern was classified by the FBI Counterterrorism Division (CTD) and was related to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Following his conversation with [REDACTED] contacted KENNEDY and informed him that there was no way he could assist KENNEDY with declassifying the information contained in the e-mail.”

At today’s press briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Toner said: “Pat Kennedy is going to remain at his job and he has the full confidence of the secretary of state.”

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