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Officials cited pressure not to mark Clinton emails classified

In this Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks while attending the Foundry United Methodist Church for their Bicentennial Homecoming Celebration in Washington. (Molly Riley / AP)
In this Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks while attending the Foundry United Methodist Church for their Bicentennial Homecoming Celebration in Washington. (Molly Riley / AP)
By Chris Strohm, Andrew Harris and Ben Brody Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – A State Department team responsible for determining which records should be kept secret felt “immense pressure” to not label about 300 emails found on Hillary Clinton’s private email server as classified, according to interview summaries released by the FBI.

Officials from the State Department’s Information Programs and Services office began a review in March 2015 of 296 emails that were set to be turned over to a House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

“IPS felt immense pressure to complete the review quickly and not label anything as classified,” according to interview notes from a State Department official whose name was redacted from the FBI summary.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday released 100 pages of redacted interview notes, known as 302s, the latest batch of summaries made public from its inquiry into Clinton’s use of private email for official business while secretary of state. She has called using the private system was a “mistake,” while her Republican opponent Donald Trump has said it’s a crime and told her in the second presidential debate that “you’d be in jail” if he wins on Nov. 8.

Republicans have pressured the FBI to release more information since Director James Comey’s announcement in July that he recommended against prosecution while finding that Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” Previous releases of FBI notes included a summary of the agency’s interview with Clinton.

Officials on the Information Programs and Services review team were told that there wasn’t anything classified in the emails and therefore they shouldn’t use what is known as a B(1) exemption from the Freedom of Information Act to withhold information, according to the summary of the interview with the State Department official.

Invoking an exemption would have made it clear that some information in the emails was classified – which went against the public narrative that Clinton and her top aides presented when it first became public that the former secretary of state relied exclusively on a private email address and a server in the basement of her home in Chappaqua, N.Y.

“IPS officials felt intimated when they used or suggested the use of the B(1) exemption on any of the 296 emails,” according to the notes.

There also was “a powerful group of very high-ranking State officials,” referred to as “The Shadow Government,” that met every Wednesday afternoon to discuss all things related to releasing or withholding emails that were on Clinton’s server, according to the interview notes.

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