Republicans are livid over the offer of a “quid pro quo” between the FBI and the State Department, which sought to declassify an email from Hillary Clinton’s personal email account—a point which Donald Trump is trying to capitalize on before the final presidential debate on Wednesday.
The FBI publicized new notes Monday morning that summarize interviews they conducted as part of investigation they did into whether classified information had been improperly stored on her server while she was Secretary of State.
In one 2015 interview, a former staffer at the FBI’s Records Management Division alleged that Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy had contacted the FBI, offering to allow the FBI to place more agents in Iraq in exchange for changing the classification of an email from Clinton’s private email account.
The FBI staffer was later called into a meeting with Kennedy, during which the staffer again said he or she felt pressured to change the classification status of the email.
"In a private meeting with KENNEDY following the all agency meeting, KENNEDY asked [redacted] whether the FBI could "see their way to marking the email unclassified," the FBI's notes read. "According to [redacted] KENNEDY spent the next 15 minutes debating the classification of the email and attempting to influence the FBI to change its markings."
The fact that the allegation was floated suggests that this sort of insider dealing occurs behind the scenes within government, which if true validates a core contention of Trump’s campaign: that the government is not transparent and is rigged against the public. It is also yet another reminder of Clinton’s unauthorized use of a private email server, which GOP nominee Donald Trump and other Republicans have seized upon as a warning that she should not be trusted with the position of the presidency.
In an interview with the FBI, the records management staffer offered the opinion that the State Department "has an agenda which involves minimizing the classified nature of the CLINTON emails in order to protect STATE interests and those of CLINTON."
The State Department pushed back Monday morning over these new allegations: while it did not say that a quid pro quo was never offered, spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement to The Daily Beast that no quid pro quo ever took place,—the document remained at its classification level and the FBI did not increase the number of FBI slots in Iraq.
“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,” Toner said. “Classification is an art, not a science, and individuals with classification authority sometimes have different views.”
The FBI argued that the Iraq slots and declassification of the email were two separate issues, and that the FBI had been trying to get in touch with Kennedy for some time about increasing its operations in Iraq. Having been contacted by Kennedy about the email issue, the FBI official brought up the Iraq slots in the same conversation.
“Although there was never a quid pro quo, these allegations were nonetheless referred to the appropriate officials for review,” an FBI spokesperson said.
Republicans were quick to point to this revelation as evidence that Clinton was not fit to occupy the White House—and it provided a point of unity at a time where the Republican Party was deeply divided over Trump’s candidacy and his own personal scandals.
"Hillary Clinton acts as though she is above the law and therefore, she is not fit to serve as Commander in Chief," said retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a top Trump surrogate. "Hillary Clinton has recklessly put our national security at extreme risk. We have men and women putting their lives on the line for this country. If any person had done a fraction of what she has done with our sensitive information they would be criminally charged and those in our military would be court-martialed."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has sent ripples through the GOP with his recent pronouncement that he would be focused on maintaining the Republican majority in the House, rather than supporting Trump, issued a similar criticism of the news.
“These documents further demonstrate Secretary Clinton’s complete disregard for properly handling classified information,” Ryan said Monday morning. “Moreover, 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.”
In one recent poll, close to two-thirds of voters say they believed Clinton was not "honest and trustworthy." Throughout her entire campaign, it has been one of her major weaknesses. As the hours tick down until the final showdown between the two presidential candidates, Trump will now have another arrow in his quiver to strike home this point.