As if all the attention paid to Anthony Weiner’s … um, wiener … hasn’t been enough, The Huffington Post’s Mollie Reilly reports in a story posted 08/19/2013 12:09 pm EDT and updated 08/19/2013 2:49 pm EDT, that Anthony Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, a “top aide” to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is facing “renewed scrutiny” over her work as a “consultant for outside clients” while also serving at the State Department.
It seems that Ms. Abedin served her final months under the former Secretary of State as a “special government employee,” which allowed her to work for private clients while also staying on the public payroll. Granted, her husband is at least temporarily out of a job and – the last time we looked – his campaign to be the next Mayor of New York was not going all that well, but still … . Especially because Ms. Abedin’s private clients just happen to include – wait for it – the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation and Teneo Capital.
The Clinton Foundation is pretty self-explanatory, and Teneo is a global financial consulting and private equity firm founded by Douglas Band and Declan Kelly. For those with short memories, HuffPo reminded us in March 2012 that Band was an adviser to then-President Bill Clinton and helped found the Clinton Global Initiative; Irish-born Kelly is reportedly a longtime friend of former First Lady Hillary Clinton, a major donor to Hillary’s presidential campaign, and a top State Department envoy after President Obama appointed Hillary Secretary of State.
So it’s all very incestuous, with Ms. Abedin parlaying her State Department position with Mrs. Clinton into “special employee” status under Mrs. Clinton’s successor plus a paid position with Mrs. Clinton’s husband’s organization and its founders in the private sector. Where it begins to get murky, however, is when Congress and the Fourth Estate start asking questions.
In a June 2013 letter Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) formally requested more information from current Secretary of State John Kerry concerning Abedin’s State Department arrangement, including whether her work had been “adequately disclosed to government officials who may have provided her information without realizing that she was being paid by private investors to gather information.”
A month later, Grassley complained to HuffPo, both the State Department and Abedin were “stonewalling” his requests. Abedin reportedly responded in a July 17 letter that the late 2011 birth of her son prompted her to request a change in her State Department status so that she could spend more time with her husband and son in New York City, rather than in Washington where the couple lived when the current mayoral candidate was still in Congress. “I certainly never ‘gathered information from government sources for the purpose of informing investment decisions of Teneo’s clients’,” HuffPo quotes Mrs. Weiner as saying in the letter.
But what, exactly, did the lady do in her “special employee” position, and why was she on the payroll of a highly politically-connected firm while also receiving a salary from the taxpayers? Don’t the State Department, the Clintons, and the Abedin/Weiners recognize that, at this very least, this is what political consultants call “bad optics”?
More important, even if that was not her purpose in gathering the information, did Ms. Abedin use any information she obtained from her State Department position to help inform investment decisions of Teneo’s clients? A lawyer who uses confidential information obtained in the course of representing a client to engage in insider trading, for example, can still be found guilty of insider trading even if the lawyer’s purpose in gathering the information was to represent the client.
A month after Ms. Abedin’s letter, on Sunday, August 18, 2013, The New York Times – not exactly noted for its Republican leanings – reported that it, too, has questions for the State Department. Specifically, it has asked for “the titles and job descriptions of other individuals [than Ms. Abedin] the department has permitted to serve in the capacity of special government employee,” and whether any of Mrs. Clinton’s other political appointees were given the same special designation. More bluntly: was Human Abedin the only one singled out for her special dual-role status? And if so, then why?
Like Sen. Grassley, The Times has reportedly been stonewalled. According to the Grey Lady, State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach responded that”[a]s a general policy, the Department of State does not disclose employee information of this nature.”
Here at Somewhat Reasonable™, we tend to disagree with Mr. Gerlach that how the taxpayers’ money is spent constitutes confidential “employee information” and instead to agree with Sen. Grassley, as quoted in The Times, that “[b]asic information about a special category of employees who earn a government salary shouldn’t be a state secret.” As Sen. Grassley observed in The Times, “[d]isclosure of information builds accountability from the government to the taxpaying public” and “[a]gencies that lose sight of transparency also lose public trust.”
By balking rather than being forthcoming, the State Department has now unfortunately joined ranks with the NSA, the IRS, and the Justice Department as agencies of paramount importance to the proper functioning of national government in which the public is rapidly losing trust. For the future of republican self-government that is a very sad and dangerous thing.
That is especially so when the apparent cover-up involves a tangled network of high-level connections with a probable 2016 Presidential Candidate — and we don’t mean Anthony Weiner.