Updated Oct. 19, 2016 9:26 a.m. ET
The Wall Street Journal
If the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server has shown anything, it’s that the Clintons have many helpers in Washington. This includes the State Department, where even the civil servants have tried to protect their former boss.
The latest FBI document release on Monday contains interviews with officials revealing that in spring 2015 Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy contacted an FBI official to coax the FBI to downgrade from classified to unclassified a Benghazi-related email that had sat on Mrs. Clinton’s server. At the time Mrs. Clinton was still insisting she’d never transmitted classified information.
The headlines have focused on whether the Kennedy request to FBI official Brian McCauley was a quid pro quo: an offer that State would allow the FBI to place more agents in foreign countries, in exchange for downgrading the document. There is a dispute in the FBI interview notes over whether this was proposed by Mr. Kennedy or by Mr. McCauley, and both State and FBI deny an explicit tit for tat, as do Mr. Kennedy and Mr. McCauley. The FBI also did not downgrade the document. Yet even the FBI concedes it referred the “allegations” to “appropriate officials for review,” which makes the episode ripe for Congressional investigation.
Even without a quid quo pro, the episode shows that the State Department has been assisting the Clinton campaign. Especially notable is evidence that Mr. Kennedy knew the FBI had grounds for classifying the document. According to the McCauley interview notes, Mr. Kennedy called asking for the downgrade, explaining that the email “caused problems” for him.
Mr. Kennedy proposed that rather than mark the email classified, he’d give it a special exemption from Freedom of Information Act requests, which would allow him “to archive the document in the basement of [State] never to be seen again.” Mr. Kennedy seemed to agree that the email was too sensitive for public consumption but wanted to spare Mrs. Clinton the classified reality.
Mr. Kennedy waged a sustained campaign to get Mrs. Clinton off the classification hook. One unnamed official claims Mr. Kennedy followed up his telephone request with a private meeting in which he again asked if the FBI would “see their way to marking the email unclassified.” He also, according to the notes, went directly to Michael Steinbach,the assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, to press his case.
Meanwhile, an unnamed State Department employee who worked in the group tasked with handling FOIA requests and reviewing nearly 300 Benghazi-related emails, reported that senior State officials, including Mr. Kennedy, put the team under “immense pressure to complete the review quickly and to not label anything as classified.”
This employee also reported that the group was made to work with officials at the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the White House Counsel’s office who were not their “normal” points of contact.
The employee also noted that the process was dictated by what State employees referred to as the “Shadow Government,” a “powerful group of very high-ranking STATE officials” who met every Wednesday to deal with “everything CLINTON-related.”
The group included State lawyers Catherine Duval and Austin Evers, who previously worked for Williams & Connolly—the law firm of Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall.Ms. Duval was last in the spotlight when she was at the IRS, stymieing Congressional attempts to obtain emails related to the abusive targeting of conservative nonprofits.
Democrats claim this is all nothing more than State employees engaging in the usual “interagency dispute” over classification—which has been Mrs. Clinton’s defense from the start. But there is nothing usual about the State department calling in “shadow” lawyers to handle emails, intimidating FOIA staff or proposing deals with FBI officials to deep-six documents in State basements. These are the actions of bureaucrats and political appointees seeking to hide from the public the mishandling of sensitive information by the Democratic nominee for President.
Speaking of the White House, the latest WikiLeaks release contains an email from Clinton aide Phillipe Reines to campaign staffers in March 2015. Mr. Reines is responding to a New York Times headline, “Obama Says He Didn’t Know Hillary Clinton Was Using Private Email Address.” “One of us should connect with the WH just so they know that the email will show his statement to not make sense,” he wrote.
This is the latest evidence that Mr. Obama was aware of, and corresponded with, Mrs. Clinton on her private email server. Notes of an FBI interview with Huma Abedindescribe how the Clinton aide was shown an email that the FBI suggests came to Mrs. Clinton under a pseudonym used by Mr. Obama, and she exclaims, “How is this not classified?” She then asks for a copy of the email.
The American public still doesn’t know who knew about Mrs. Clinton’s server, who misused it and how much that put the nation’s secrets at risk. We do know that many Obama officials and bureaucrats have been dedicated to making sure the public never gets those answers.
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