New leaked emails indicate the State Department was actively working to help Hillary Clinton's campaign downplay the House Benghazi committee's discovery that Clinton had withheld more than a dozen of her emails with Sidney Blumenthal, her informal adviser.
It's the latest sign that the department was in close coordination with the Clinton campaign to help mitigate the scandal involving her private email server.
The conversations emerged from the seventh batch of emails posted Friday by WikiLeaks, which were obtained illegally from the inbox of John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chair.
Nick Merrill, Clinton's campaign spokesman, said in June 2015 that he had "spoke[n] to State" about the agency's upcoming production to the House Select Committee on Benghazi of dozens of emails sent to Clinton by Blumenthal. Those emails included 16 chains Clinton did not turn over to the State Department.
Merrill said State Department officials were "considering placing a story with a friendly at the AP (Matt Lee or Bradley Klapper), that would lay this out before the majority on the committee has a chance to realize what they have and distort it."
Merrill also recommended that the Clinton campaign support this plan. "On that last piece, we think it would make sense to work with State and the AP," he concluded.
In addition, Brian Fallon, a campaign spokesman, said reporters should be told "off the record" that Blumenthal possibly "misremembered" which emails he had actually sent to Clinton.
Merrill, Heather Samuelson and Cheryl Mills — all close Clinton allies — also debated whether they should stress to inquiring reporters the fact that Blumenthal was not a federal employee, and therefore not subject to the same Freedom of Information Act requirements.
Samuelson, an attorney for Clinton who received immunity during the subsequent FBI investigation of the emails, recommended withholding any reference to Blumenthal's employment status.
Blumenthal's behind-the-scenes relationship with Clinton generated a spate of negative headlines for Clinton last summer, after the committee revealed how frequently Clinton and Blumenthal discussed Benghazi and other sensitive topics.
President Obama's team had blocked Clinton's effort to hire Blumenthal upon her entry into the State Department given the Democratic operative's nasty tactics during the primary race between Clinton and Obama.
Other emails exposed by WikiLeaks this week suggested that Fallon kept in touch with Justice Department officials ahead of key FOIA hearings in lawsuits over Clinton's private emails. Fallon left the Justice Department to join the Clinton campaign.
The discovery that the State Department and Clinton's team may have coordinated on the release of Benghazi-related emails is significant because the Democratic nominee frequently pointed to the agency's impartiality when highlighting actions it took in her favor.