High-level State Department officials worked behind the scenes last year in several key ways to ensure the release of Hillary Clinton's emails inflicted as little damage as possible on the Democratic nominee, according to notes made public by the FBI on Monday.
Patrick Kennedy, State's undersecretary for management, was at the center of efforts to prevent the FBI from upgrading Benghazi-related emails to a classified level.
Although the State Department quickly denied wrongdoing on the part of Kennedy and dismissed GOP calls for his removal on Monday, the FBI notes prompted fresh scrutiny of the administration's approach to the Clinton email probe.
The 100 pages of "302s," or summaries of interviews conducted by the FBI, that were released this week shed light on the quiet push to manipulate the handling of Clinton's emails amid multiple investigations into her record-keeping.
Outsiders tampered with document reviews
Unnamed people who were given "special appointments" in order to assist career State Department officials with the review of Clinton's emails raised suspicions among some observers, who called their involvement in the process "abnormal."
Their employment histories "appeared to create a conflict of interest," the FBI said. The Freedom of Information Act review process is typically confined to career officials in order to prevent political bias from affecting decisions about which records are withheld or redacted.
One of the people brought in to work on Clinton's emails "was possibly involved in the Lois Lerner, Internal Revenue Service situation," referring to the tax agency's targeting of conservative nonprofit groups ahead of the 2012 election.
Multiple witnesses told the FBI they felt agency leadership circumvented normal procedures when preparing emails, particularly those mentioning Benghazi and Libya, for release to Congress and the public.
Officials manipulated redactions
At least one of the 296 Benghazi-related emails made public last summer was released in full despite the fact that it contained classified information, the FBI said. In other emails, the names of public officials were redacted even though FOIA requirements stipulate that those names should have been released.
Some record-keeping officials said they felt "intimidated" each time they proposed upgrading and redacting part of an email because it was classified. Those officials described the "immense pressure" they felt to avoid classifying anything within the 296 Benghazi documents.
After reviewing the Benghazi-related emails last year, career officials in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs suggested classifying "four or five" of the documents.
However, an unnamed State Department official said he was "frustrated" with the move and instead lobbied that bureau to redact the classified portions of those emails under a different exemption, which is typically used to withhold internal conversations about government decision-making.
Kennedy tried to block classifications
The State Department's undersecretary for management made repeated attempts to convince the FBI not to classify a Benghazi-related email as his agency prepared to hand over hundreds of documents to the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
Kennedy offered a "quid pro quo" to the FBI if agents ruled against upgrading one email to the "secret" level.
An unnamed witness told investigators that Kennedy attempted "to influence the FBI to change its markings" and asked FBI agents if they could "see their way to marking the email unclassified."
Later, an FBI agent who has since retired offered to "look into the e-mail matter" if Kennedy would agree to approving the FBI's request to send additional personnel to posts in Iraq.
The FBI said the deal ever came to fruition and said in a statement Sunday that the FBI agent who responded favorably to Kennedy's overtures was no longer with the bureau.
Some emails disappeared
Clinton's legal team at first informed the State Department that it had prepared 14 banker boxes of printed emails for production to the government. However, when officials arrived at her lawyer's office to retrieve the emails, they found only 12 boxes.
"[O]fficials were unsure what happened to the other two boxes," the FBI wrote.
The 12 boxes that did end up in State Department custody contained 52,455 pages of emails, packed into the boxes "with no folders or known method of organization."
Clinton's lawyers knew emails contained 'Top Secret' intel
Katherine Turner, an attorney at the law firm representing Clinton, told FBI agents in August of last year that she had obtained six laptops from Clinton's staff, each of which likely contained "Top Secret classified information."
But at a meeting with agents in her office, Turner "declined to provide consent to search the laptops" and pushed for her clients' protection of what they considered "privileged communication."
Ultimately, Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson, two of the aides involved in sorting Clinton's work-related emails, received immunity deals to turn over their laptops. Those agreements provided for the destruction of those laptops after agents reviewed their contents.
'Shadow Government' tried to stop email releases
A group of high-ranking State Department officials, dubbed the "Shadow Government" by witnesses who spoke to the FBI, pushed to release all 30,000 of Clinton's emails at the same time, in Jan. 2016, rather than over the course of several months starting in summer 2015.
The powerful group met every Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to handle FOIA requests for Clinton's emails. Regular attendees included Secretary John Kerry's chief of staff and Kennedy.
"Shadow Government" members argued the release of Clinton's emails should happen all at once to facilitate "coordination." The move would have overwhelmed reporters with thousands of email chains and prevented the controversy from lingering over the course of the proposed rolling releases.
Ultimately, the career record-keeping officials won out, and the emails were released in batches stretching from May 2015 to Feb. 2016.