A former FBI official admitted his role in an alleged "quid pro quo" controversy involving the State Department in interviews with two newspapers Tuesday, but denied allegations that the proposed favor exchange was politically motivated.
Allegations surfaced this week that the State Department attempted to "pressure" the FBI into declassifying one of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails. The request was made during a review of her correspondence in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Former FBI official Brian McCauley told The Washington Post that he asked that two FBI employees be stationed in Baghdad weeks before he got a call from Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy in May 2015.
"He said: 'Brian. Pat Kennedy. I need a favor,'" McCauley told The Post. "I said, 'Good, I need a favor. I need our people back in Baghdad.'"
Kennedy told McCauley that he thought one of Clinton's emails had been needlessly determined to contain classified information. He asked McCauley to look into the classification, and McCauley agreed in exchange for the State Department's promise to bring back the two Baghdad positions.
"I'm the one that threw that out there," McCauley told The New York Times. He said the offer was typical of how federal agencies "help each other and work with each other."
He declined to change the email's designation after learning that it was related to the 2012 attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
"When I found that out, all bets were off; it wasn't even negotiable," McCauley told The Times. "It was off the table; the quid pro quo was not even close to being considered."
Critics have seized on the incident, which was made public Monday when the FBI released 100 pages of notes from its investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. Detractors claim that the proposed favor exchange is evidence of collusion between Clinton and federal investigators.
There is no evidence that Clinton knew about the alleged "quid pro quo," and the State Department has denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement, Kennedy said he believed that the information in question should be redacted or blacked out but not classified. According to The Post, the incident took place before federal officials launched their investigation into Clinton's use of a private server.
"We take very seriously our responsibility to decide whether our documents are classified or not classified," Kennedy 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."
Two Republican lawmakers immediately called for Kennedy's removal from office in the wake of the scandal, and Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Virginia, on Tuesday asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into the favor exchange. Goodlatte is chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary.
"I can say that Pat Kennedy is going to remain at his job and he has the full confidence of the secretary of state," State Department deputy spokesman Mark C. Toner said Monday at a press briefing.