Republicans have seized on the controversy over the classification of the email, which regarded possible arrests related to the 2012 Benghazi attacks, to argue Hillary Clinton’s political allies tried to shield her during the investigation into her email practices.
WASHINGTON — A former FBI official at the center of the latest controversy over Hillary Clinton’s private emails acknowledged Tuesday that an offer to swap favors with a State Department counterpart on an email-classification issue originated with him — until he realized the deal involved Clinton and the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.
“When I found that out, all bets were off; it wasn’t even negotiable,” the former FBI official, Brian McCauley, said in a telephone interview.
Republicans have seized on the controversy over the classification of the email, which regarded possible arrests related to the 2012 Benghazi attacks, to argue Clinton’s political allies attempted to shield her during the investigation into her email practices.
Clinton had initially claimed that none of her emails contained classified information. The FBI eventually recommended that federal prosecutors not seek criminal charges over her use of a private email server.
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McCauley’s account could undercut those arguments because he said he was the one who suggested the “quid pro quo,” not the State Department.
McCauley recounted in the interview that Patrick Kennedy, a senior State Department official, called him in spring 2015 looking for help in getting the FBI to agree not to classify the disputed email. McCauley said he agreed to try to help him if Kennedy, in turn, would help him get the State Department to restore two spots that the FBI had lost recently in the Baghdad embassy.
“I’m the one that threw that out there,” McCauley said. He said the offer was typical of how federal agencies “help each other and work with each other.”
McCauley said he quickly reversed himself, however, after calling another FBI official and learning that the email in question involved the Benghazi attack — a political weapon for Republicans against Clinton.
At that point, McCauley said, he abandoned any thought of exchanging favors, and he said he called Kennedy immediately to tell him that he could not help.
Kennedy said Tuesday he had made the call last year to the FBI official for help because he “wanted to better understand” why the bureau wanted to classify a portion of the Benghazi email before it was released to the public.
He said he did not believe the information should be classified as “secret,” but should instead be redacted, or blacked out, on the grounds that it contained information related to a continuing investigation.
McCauley said he remembered Kennedy’s telling him in their initial phone conversation that he wanted to redact part of the email on different grounds so that it could be “buried in the basement” of the State Department.
But State Department officials denied any intention to bury the email. In the end, the State Department accepted the bureau’s argument and released the email with a sentence redacted as secret because it related to the FBI’s Clinton email investigation.
On Monday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, called for Kennedy to be removed pending a full investigation into the matter.
Chaffetz first disclosed the alleged quid pro quo in an interview with Fox News on Saturday.