Andrew C. McCarthy:
This is a long column, so let me cut to the chase. Hillary Clinton’s circle, including Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s under secretary of state for management, absolutely subordinated national security to politics and broke federal law. But in the “quid pro quo” controversy with the FBI, they are not guilty of bribery. Because the term “quid pro quo” was used — by an FBI agent, in an understandable but overwrought description of a half-baked arrangement proposed by another FBI agent, not Kennedy — commentators are focused on the wrong crime.
The right crime is conspiracy to obstruct justice and congressional investigations. The Clinton camp clearly and corruptly pressured government officials to downgrade the intelligence classification of documents in order to bolster Mrs. Clinton’s false claim that she never trafficked in classified materials on her private e-mail system. Further, they fraudulently exploited exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to bury documents that might harm Clinton — including documents on the Benghazi terrorist attack — such that the public would never see them. Their motive was political — i.e., to minimize the damage of Clinton’s felonious mishandling of classified information — but the intentional effect of their corrupt actions was to obstruct both FOIA cases and Congress’s oversight of the State Department.
Kennedy improperly pressured the FBI to declassify and help him conceal a classified Benghazi e-mail. Nevertheless, after studying the pertinent FBI reports from the batch released on Monday, I conclude that he did not offer a bribe to entice the FBI’s cooperation — the alleged quid pro quo in which, for downgrading the document’s classification, the State Department would reward the FBI with workspace in countries where the bureau’s presence was prohibited or extremely limited.
Instead, I surmise that a very foolish FBI agent — who was frustrated by Kennedy’s unresponsiveness about foreign postings for the FBI and who was ignorant of the magnitude of what Kennedy was asking him to do — loosely floated a potential quid pro quo to Kennedy . . . not the other way around. Moreover, this agent immediately alerted Kennedy that he could not help him once he finally realized the document in question (a) related to the Benghazi terrorist attack in which four Americans including the U.S. ambassador had been killed, and (b) had been classified as “SECRET/NOFORN” (i.e., secret information not releasable to foreign nationals) by the bureau’s counterterrorism division.
Now, before we get into the facts, a bit of background that may help us understand what happened here.
Law-enforcement people generally find the State Department infuriating. When I was a prosecutor working on cases with an international dimension, I knew some very fine State Department employees; by and large, though, I would prefer to have a root canal than interact with their department. My perception was a common one: State Department officials often see themselves as foreign countries’ advocates in dealing with the United States, not America’s advocates in dealing with foreign countries.
Consequently, I have sympathy for the agent in the middle of this mess. Because the released interview reports weirdly redact the names of most of the FBI agents germane to this incident, we will call him “the FBI-IOD agent” — because, though now retired, he worked at the bureau’s International Operations Division (IOD) at the relevant time.
The IOD’s mission is to promote the FBI’s presence across the globe. Since the 1990s, the FBI has sought to establish a principle that counterterrorism is primarily a law-enforcement matter, not a military/intelligence issue. The goal is for the bureau to supplant the CIA as the U.S. government’s go-to overseas intelligence agency. To achieve it, the FBI needs cooperation from the State Department. That can be frustrating: The State Department has cozy relations with the CIA, which prefers operating in the shadows. State is not as enthusiastic about high-profile criminal investigations that embarrass foreign governments. While the FBI has pride of place domestically, it thus chafes under State’s supremacy over U.S. activity across the globe.
The FBI’s IOD oversees the bureau’s foreign activities. That means IOD agents must coordinate with the State Department, which can be maddening. And, significantly for what follows, while IOD brass is conversant with classified-information policy, they are not necessarily informed about classified-information issues that arise in particular investigations — that is the bailiwick of units like the counterterrorism division (CTD) that are closest to individual cases.
In connection with the quid pro quo controversy, FBI investigators interviewed the FBI-IOD agent on August 5, 2015. Before we get into the facts, let’s notice two things he said about his relationship with State Department under secretary Patrick Kennedy. First, he says their relationship was “professional”: While they “got along,” they “did not agree on many matters related to the FBI’s role and authority overseas.” Second, Kennedy had an annoying practice of ignoring the FBI-IOD agent’s phone calls. That is why the FBI-IOD agent was so surprised, upon arriving at his desk one day in late May or early June 2015, to find a note that Kennedy had telephoned and wanted a call back.
Let me translate (using italics, as I will do throughout when translating the euphemistic law-enforcement argot of FBI reports into normal-person language): The agent saw Kennedy as a jerk with whom he interacted in a professional manner because that’s what you’re supposed to do even with jerks. Kennedy, nevertheless, was a particular thorn in the IOD agent’s side because the IOD wants to station more FBI agents overseas and allow them to operate with as few restrictions as possible, while Kennedy seems to think that (a) there should be less U.S. law-enforcement presence overseas, and (b) the few agents allowed foreign posting should be tightly restricted by the host country and the State Department.
Besides that, the state of play when the FBI-IOD agent got Kennedy’s message was that the agent had been trying for months to press Kennedy on the matter of assigning more FBI agents overseas, but Kennedy — no doubt because he was unreceptive to this notion — had been ignoring the calls.
Human nature is such that when a jerk who has been ignoring our messages suddenly calls us out of the blue, it must be because he wants something — probably badly, since he would rather do almost anything than talk to us.
This was clearly the case when Kennedy called the FBI-IOD agent.
Notice how Hillary and the State Department don’t give a damn what happens to PEOPLE as they try to cover up their corruption and mistakes.
Neither do the nudnicks who support her and will vote for her in spite of the fact that she has said she finds the American people contemptible….