Official urged FBI to unclassify Clinton email

Donald Trump has seized on news that a State Department official in 2015 asked the FBI to label one of Hillary Clinton’s official emails as unclassified after it had initially been marked “secret,” offering what one FBI official described as a “quid pro quo” in return.

Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state, called an FBI official in June 2015 to question the bureau’s decision to label at least one email classified, according to summaries of interviews agents conducted during the investigation of Mrs Clinton’s handling of her emails while secretary of state. 

An FBI legal official later told a colleague that Mr Kennedy had offered the bureau approval to station additional agents abroad in return for changing its classification verdict, which the FBI official labelled a “quid pro quo.” 

On Monday, Mr Trump tweeted a link to a news story about the development captioned: “Unbelievable.” He followed 30 minutes later with a second: “Corruption confirmed.” 

Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House who recently withdrew his support for Mr Trump over his comments about women, said the disclosure “bears all the signs of a cover-up.” 

The FBI witness interview summaries released on Monday describe a lengthy debate between State and bureau officials over the proper labelling of one of Mrs Clinton’s emails. 

Around June 2015, State’s freedom of information act office sent five emails, which contained information involving the FBI, to the bureau for classification review. An FBI records management officer believed at least one contained classified material so he forwarded it to the bureau’s counterterrorism division, which determined it should be classified “SECRET/NOFORN” meaning the email could not be distributed to foreign citizens. 

About one week later, a State Department legal official called to question the decision, saying the country mentioned in the email “does not have an official government” and thus the material could not properly be classified on the grounds of causing potential harm to another government. The unidentified State Department official also squabbled with the FBI counterpart over which agency was properly responsible for determining whether the material was classified. 

But the FBI records officer pushed back, saying he “firmly believed” the material had been classified properly. 

Subsequently, this FBI officer received a call from an official with the bureau’s International Operations Division, who “pressured him to change the classified email to unclassified,” according to the interview summary. The second FBI official said he had been contacted by Mr Kennedy who had told him 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.” 

On Sunday, the FBI denied there had been any discussion of an actual bargain, arguing that a bureau official took advantage of a rare communication with Mr Kennedy to address an outstanding request. “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 bureau said in a statement to CBS News. 

As his poll numbers have fallen over the past few weeks, Mr Trump has ramped up his attacks on Mrs Clinton, asserting that the media is colluding with his Democratic opponent to rig November’s election. He has continued that line of attack even as the Republican leadership in Washington has denied that the election is rigged. 

Mrs Clinton has beaten Mr Trump in the last 13 nationwide polls, and leads the tycoon by more than six points, according to an average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics.

She also holds a 1.6 point lead in Ohio, a key swing state where Mr Trump is facing headwinds because of a spat between the state Republican party and his campaign. She has also eked out an average lead of 3.5 points in Florida, the most important swing state in the election.

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