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Agencies Clashed on Classification of Clinton Email, Inquiry Shows

Documents released Monday in the Hillary Clinton email investigation show intense disagreement last year between the State Department and the F.B.I. over whether some of Mrs. Clinton's emails should be considered classified, including a discussion of a possible "quid pro quo" to settle one dispute.

The new batch of documents indicated that in one particular case, a senior State Department official, Patrick F. Kennedy, pressed the F.B.I. to agree that one of Mrs. Clinton's emails on the 2012 Benghazi attack would be unclassified — and not classified as the bureau wanted.

What remained unclear from the documents was whether it was Mr. Kennedy or an F.B.I. official who purportedly offered the "quid pro quo": marking the email unclassified in exchange for the State Department's approving the posting of more F.B.I. agents to Iraq.

Officials at both the F.B.I. and the State Department said Monday that no deal had been struck, or even offered, over the classification of Mrs. Clinton's private emails. They noted that the Benghazi email in question had been made public with a sentence blocked out, meeting the F.B.I.'s demand for classification. They also said no additional F.B.I. agents had been posted overseas.

There is no indication from the documents that Mrs. Clinton was aware of the discussion.

Donald J. Trump and other Republicans nonetheless quickly seized on the new documents as evidence of what Speaker Paul D. Ryan called "a cover-up."

The F.B.I.'s latest release of 100 pages of internal investigative files prolonged the intense public scrutiny of Mrs. Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state, which has been perhaps more damaging to her presidential campaign than any other issue.

The new documents also cast particular attention on the role of Mr. Kennedy, a State Department civil servant for more than four decades, in working to oversee the review and public release of tens of thousands of Mrs. Clinton's private emails.

One of the F.B.I. reports said State Department employees who reviewed nearly 300 of Mrs. Clinton's emails on the Benghazi attacks in early 2015 in response to requests from Congress had "felt intense pressure" from Mr. Kennedy and other senior State Department officials to complete their review quickly and "not label anything as classified."

Mr. Kennedy was part of a long-running battle between the State Department and the intelligence agencies over Mrs. Clinton's emails. As the emails were prepared for release, officials from the intelligence agencies argued in some cases that information in them should have been marked classified, while State Department officials countered that they contained the routine business of American diplomacy. State Department officials, who argue that the intelligence agencies are overzealous in classifying information, remain sensitive to criticism that they were sloppy in handling the material.

In one of the newly disclosed documents, an unidentified F.B.I. employee told investigators that Mr. Kennedy, through another F.B.I. official, had sought in one case "assistance in altering the email's classification in exchange for a 'quid pro quo.'"

The F.B.I. had deemed the email classified, but the State Department disagreed.

The employee told investigators that "in exchange for marking the email unclassified, State would reciprocate by allowing the F.B.I. to place more Agents in countries where they are presently forbidden," according to the F.B.I.'s summary of the employee's questioning by investigators.

A second F.B.I. interview included in the documents provides a somewhat different version of the dispute over the classification of the Benghazi email, with the suggestion that the F.B.I. — and not Mr. Kennedy — had offered to make a deal.

In the interview, an unidentified F.B.I. official in the international operations division said Mr. Kennedy had complained to him that the F.B.I. classification of the document "caused problems for Kennedy" and that Mr. Kennedy had wanted to give it a different designation and file it in the State Department basement — "never to be seen again."

The unidentified F.B.I. official said he was the one who then "told Kennedy he would look into the email matter if Kennedy would provide authority concerning the F.B.I.'s request to increase its personnel in Iraq."

Correction: October 20, 2016

Because of an editing error, a headline on Wednesday about a former F.B.I. official at the center of the latest controversy over Hillary Clinton's private emails referred incorrectly to comments he made about his involvement. While he said he did in fact offer to trade favors with the State Department about an email classification issue last year, he also said that he quickly dropped the offer once he realized it involved the 2012 Benghazi attacks and Mrs. Clinton's emails. He did not admit to a "quid pro quo" specifically over Mrs. Clinton's emails.

[Source: By Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times, Washington, 17Oct16]

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