Clinton emails: State official accused of offering FBI 'quid pro quo' to unclassify email

A top State Department official offered the FBI a "quid pro quo" in exchange for unclassifying one of Hillary Clinton's emails amid a probe into the former secretary of state's use of a private email server, according to documents released Monday by federal investigators.

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The allegation was detailed in notes from an interview that took place in July 2015 with an unnamed official in the FBI's Records Management Division.

"(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,'" according to the interview notes.

"(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 were presently forbidden."

>> Related: WikiLeaks emails: Trump questions whether DOJ, Clinton 'colluded' on email probe

The call was allegedly made as authorities reviewed five of Clinton's emails in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

At a later all-agency meeting, "a participant specifically asked whether any of the emails in question were classified. Making eye contact with (redacted) KENNEDY remarked 'Well, we'll see,'" according to the interview notes.

The interviewee believed the comment was in reference to the email Kennedy, who is not related to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, was attempting to get unclassified.

Kennedy argued for unclassifying the email during a 15-minute exchange at the meeting, although authorities declined to change its status. Kennedy asked to speak with someone else about the classification and was referred to Michael Steinbach, assistant director of the Counter-Terrorism Division.

>> Related: WikiLeaks emails: Apologies Clinton's 'Achilles' heel,' adviser says

During a subsequent conference call, "KENNEDY continued to pressure the FBI to change the classified markings on the email to unclassified. STEINBACH refused to do so," the interview notes state.

The interview subject told investigators that he "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."

In a statement released to Politico, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner denied that State officials requested a "quid pro quo" from federal investigators.

"This allegation is inaccurate and does not align with the facts," he said.

"To be clear: the State Department did upgrade the document at the request of the FBI when we released it back in May 2015. Under Secretary 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."

However, another interviewee appeared to corroborate the initial report in an interview with the FBI in September 2015.

The unnamed official, who works for the FBI's International Operations Division, said he found a note on his desk in late May or early June that asked him to contact Kennedy. The official said he was surprised, because his colleagues had been trying to get in touch of Kennedy for months, without success.

>> Related: FBI: No charges recommended in Clinton email investigation, Clinton responds

"When (redacted) returned KENNEDY's call, KENNEDY asked (redacted's) assistance in changing a classification of FBI information contained in an e-mail," according to interview notes.

"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.' 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 a 'B9' classification."

The interviewee told investigators that the email was classified by the FBI's Counter-Terrorism Division and related to the 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

He initially agreed to look into the email's classification "if KENNEDY would provide authority concerning the FBI's request to increase its personnel in Iraq." It was later determined that the email could not be declassified.

>> Related: Fact-checking Hillary Clinton: Did FBI director say Clinton was 'truthful' about emails?

House Speaker Paul Ryan pointed to the newly released documents as evidence of Clinton's "complete disregard for properly handling classified information."

"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," he said.

In a Tweet, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called the allegation "unbelievable."

The documents released Monday comprise the fourth batch of documents released by the FBI in relation to its investigation into Clinton's private email server. In all, authorities have released more than 250 pages of documents related to the email probe.

>> Related: Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton: If I were president, 'you'd be in jail'

Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, served as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. Her use of a private email server has been a recurring campaign issue; critics point to her use of an unsecured server as evidence of her questionable judgment.

In July, FBI director James Comey said no charges should be filed against Clinton because, despite her "extremely careless" handling of potentially sensitive information, no "clear evidence" existed to show Clinton intended to break the law.

Trump has promised that, if elected, he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton's emails.

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