FBI agent at center of quid pro quo controversy speaks out
The FBI agent who spoke with State Department official Patrick Kennedy about reclassifying one of Hillary Clinton's emails in exchange for getting agents posted overseas went on the record with the Washington Post and denied that any collusion took place.
FBI official Brian McCauley, who retired in 2015, had been trying to get in touch with Kennedy for days. When Kennedy called back, the first thing he said was "I need a favor." McCauley responded, "Good. I need a favor."
Sounds exactly like the beginnings of a quid pro quo to me.
Nevertheless, both the State Department and the FBI are denying that any quid pro quo took place.
The FBI is denying that any "quid pro quo" was offered in the fight between the bureau and State Department over the classification level of the email, though one interview described it as such.
"Not only is there no proof. It's absolutely not true, a completely false allegation. It just didn't happen that way," John Kirby, State Department spokesman told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day" Tuesday. "There was no bargain sought by the FBI. There was no bargain rendered. This was simply an inner agency conversation about the classification over one particular email. So there was no wrongdoing here."
But McCauley, who also denies that anything illegal or unethical took place, tells a story that leaves little doubt that the "favors" both men wanted constituted exactly the kind of quid pro quo that all parties are denying.
McCauley said in an interview that when he agreed to look into the matter, he “was just being kind and polite.” And he said “there was no contingency” binding his looking into the email classification to Kennedy’s agreeing to approve his request for FBI personnel in Iraq.
“He had a request. I found out what the request was for. I absolutely said emphatically I would not support it,” McCauley said.
But one of his colleagues at the FBI’s records division told investigators that McCauley relayed his conversation with Kennedy in a way that suggested Kennedy had offered a “quid pro quo,” according to a summary of that official’s interview. McCauley disputed that characterization.
“That’s a reach,” McCauley said. “I said, ‘Hey, what is this about?’ ”
Kennedy would eventually press the FBI records official and others to change the classification of the email, absent any deal, the records official alleged. In one meeting of government agencies, when someone asked whether any emails were classified, the records official told investigators that Kennedy remarked, “Well, we’ll see,” and spent 15 minutes afterward debating the classification of a message.
Kennedy said in his statement that he thought the email should have been redacted but not because it was classified.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to decide whether our documents are classified or not classified,” he said. “We can’t simply cede that responsibility to another agency, as it is my signature or one of my senior officers’ signature which goes on the classification action, and it is the State Department which must prepare the legal justification if we are challenged in court.”
For the record, the State Department refused to allow the additional agents to be posted to Iraq.
It appears that Agent McCauley was oblivious to what was really going on while Kennedy was trying to manipulate him. At this point – May 2015 – the FBI was getting ready to ramp up a criminal investigation into the email controversy. Kennedy no doubt was aware of this and was trying to scrub the record before the investigation began. McCauley apprently did not see the significance of the reclassification and was, in his mind, engaged in simple horse trading – the kind of deals that happen in Washington all the time. "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours," or "I'll try to get the email reclassified while you try to get more agents posted to Iraq."
The stakes in this quid pro quo were huge – the probable Democrat nominee for president was fighting to stay out of jail. McCauley wasn't politically sophisticated enough to grasp that Kennedy was trying to use him.