WASHINGTON — A State Department official allegedly urged the FBI to alter the classification of a secret document found on Hillary Clinton's private server as part of a "quid pro quo'' that would allow the FBI to place additional agents abroad, according to newly released documents from the bureau's now-closed investigation into Clinton's handling of classified information while serving as secretary of State.
The FBI and State Department each denied Monday that such an arrangement occurred.
The scenario was outlined during the FBI's interview last year of an unidentified records management official at the bureau. The official recounted a conversation with a colleague at the FBI's International Operations Division, who claimed to have been contacted by Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy for help in "altering'' the classification of an email from Clinton's private server related to the 2012 Benghazi attack.
"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,'' the records official told agents, recounting the 2015 conversation with the colleague. That colleague also was not identified, but in a separate interview with investigators the international operations agent said that Kennedy sought to change the classification so that he could "archive the document in the basement of the (State Department) never to be seen again.''
The records official also said that Kennedy continued to press for the change during a subsequent meeting, ultimately asking "who else in the FBI he could speak with on the matter.''
The FBI documents also described a later conference call to discuss the matter in which Kennedy "continued to pressure the FBI to change the classified markings on the email to unclassified'' in a conversation with Michael Steinbach, then-director of the FBI's Counter-terrorism Division, who declined to do so.
The records official asserted, according to FBI documents, that "State has an agenda which involves minimizing the classified nature of the Clinton emails in order to protect State interests" and Clinton's.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the allegation contained in the FBI documents is "inaccurate and does not align with the facts.''
"To be clear,'' Toner said, "the State Department did upgrade the document at the request of the FBI. Under Secretary Kennedy sought to understand the FBI's process for withholding certain information from public release. ...Classification is an art, not a science and individuals with classifications authority sometimes have different views.''
In a written statement, the FBI also asserted that "there was never a quid pro quo'' but that the allegations were "nonetheless referred to appropriate officials for review.''
"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 (Freedom of Information Act) exemption,'' the FBI said. "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.''
During the same conversation, according to the FBI statement, the FBI official asked if State could "address'' the FBI's pending request for "additional FBI employees assigned abroad'' because the matter had been long ignored.
"The FBI official subsequently told the senior State officials that the email was appropriately classified at the 'secret level' and that the FBI would not change the classification of the email,'' the FBI said.
The disclosures from the now-closed investigative files were immediately seized on by the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who described the FBI documents as "unbelievable.''
"What was just found out is that the Department of Justice, the State Department and the FBI colluded — got together — to make Hillary Clinton look less guilty and look a lot better than she looks,'' Trump said in a video statement.
"This shows corruption at the highest level, and we can't let it happen as American citizens," Trump added.
The Trump campaign also called on Kennedy to resign from the State Department.