A Fox News inquiry about an alleged quid pro quo involving a senior State Department official and Hillary Clinton’s classified emails apparently was so sensitive that then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was called on to give his approval, according to newly released emails disclosed as a result of a federal lawsuit.
The 10 pages of email traffic from mid-October 2016, just weeks before the presidential election, were obtained by Judicial Watch as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit and were revealed Monday. They showed that the FBI's top brass quickly circulated Fox News' questions about an alleged offer from the State Department's then-Under Secretary of State for Management, Patrick Kennedy, to give the FBI additional personnel slots in Iraq in exchange for the FBI reducing the classification of a Clinton email.
Almost all of those executives have since left the bureau -- some fired, others reassigned, demoted or retired.
Michael Kortan, at the time the FBI's head of public affairs, forwarded Fox News' email to former FBI Director James Comey's chief of staff James Rybicki, senior agent Peter Strzok, who oversaw the Clinton email and Russia probes, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
Kortan wrote, “Here we go. Lisa: where did we end up on how far we would go as to how we addressed the issue? TX M."
After multiple exchanges that evening, Rybicki wrote, “Lisa: Can you get this in front of the DD quickly?” an apparent reference to Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Page wrote that she “Will forward to Andy now.” There appeared to be some additional urgency, with Page responding seven minutes later, “I emailed, called and texted him, so hopefully will hear back soon.”
Five minutes after that, at 6:56 p.m. ET, Page told the group, “Andy clears on the statement, except he suggests that (redacted.) Mike, he wanted to know what we are doing with the statement, i.e. background, official to press, etc."
This section, and most of the emails about the alleged quid pro quo, were redacted under the same FOIA exemption for deliberative processes, known as “(b)(5) inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.”
Earlier, Kortan replied that the response would be sent to all SACs – the FBI acronym for Special Agents in Charge, who are heads of an office or region.
The Fox News query from Oct. 15, 2016, focused on FBI interview summaries and notes -- which were provided days earlier to the House Government Oversight and Intelligence Committees -- containing allegations of a quid pro quo between Kennedy and the FBI over at least one classified email.
“In return for altering the classification, the possibility of additional slots for the FBI at missions overseas was discussed,” then-House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said.
As Fox News previously reported, FBI interviews, known as 302s, revealed the allegation that Kennedy applied pressure to subordinates to change classified email codes so they would be shielded from Congress and the public.
The notes read: “[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 302s, “[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.”
The email that apparently concerned Kennedy was identified by the Intelligence Community's Inspector General as containing classified material, and kickstarted the FBI probe into Clinton's alleged mishandling of classified information. The intelligence related to the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Fox News was told as far back as August 2015 that Kennedy was running interference on Capitol Hill, but Kennedy, in his FBI interview on Dec. 21, 2015, “categorically rejected” allegations of classified code tampering.
In a 2016 statement provided to Fox News, the FBI acknowledged that an agency official had been in touch with the State Department about overseas positions, but denied that the conversation was tied to the classification of a Clinton email.
"Prior to the initiation of the FBI’s investigation of former Secretary Clinton’s personal email server, the FBI was asked to review and make classification determinations on FBI emails and information which were being produced by the State Department pursuant to FOIA. The FBI determined that one such email was classified at the Secret level. 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 FOIA exemption," the FBI said.
The statement continued: "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. 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.
"Following the call, the FBI official consulted with a senior FBI executive responsible for determining the classification of the material and determined the email was in fact appropriately classified at the Secret level," the FBI's statement continued. "The FBI official subsequently told the senior State official that the email was appropriately classified at the Secret level and that the FBI would not change the classification of the email. The classification of the email was not changed, and it remains classified today. Although there was never a quid pro quo, these allegations were nonetheless referred to the appropriate officials for review."