Could ‘Gatekeeper’ Abedin Bring Down Clinton?
“Abedin’s multitasking in the final eight months of Hillary Clinton’s time as the top U.S. diplomat — and her role as intermediary for some of the same players before that — are drawing renewed scrutiny … Abedin has become the personification of an election-year debate over whether the nonprofit foundation will create conflicts of interest if Clinton wins the White House.”
As recently as Thursday, Hillary Clinton appeared to be coasting to a landslide history-making presidential victory, this November. With a lengthy FBI investigation all but behind her and her opponent, Donald Trump seeming to defeat himself by showing little remorse for boorish past behavior and exhibiting erratic temperament at times, Mrs. Clinton had much to smile about. Her lead was as dominant as has been seen in presidential politics – 14 points at one point, last month. The New York Times, America’s paper of record, published a view that Clinton had a 91% chance of winning. Everyone in the Clinton campaign loved those odds.
One day later, the other shoe dropped.
It wasn’t because of anything Donald Trump said, and Clinton who has effectively been in politics for some thirty years, now, certainly didn’t gaffe. It was the investigation into aggressive sexual texts sent to a teenager by disgraced Congressman, Anthony Weiner – husband of top Clinton aide, Huma Abedin – which ramped up the FBI investigation, once more. In just 24 hours, it closed her lead to within four points of Trump in the national polls.
Abedin to whom Clinton had referred as a “second daughter” was deputy chief of staff when Clinton was Secretary of State, her ‘body woman’ on the campaign – and whom many referred to as Clinton’s Gatekeeper.
And yet, it appears, Abedin had recklessly kept a backdoor open through which the FBI renewed their inquiry into whether Clinton had done favours for big donors of her husband’s global charity, The Clinton Foundation – favours, which could be considered as secured by donation (read that to mean bribed influence).
On Friday, October 28th, FBI Director Comey, criticized by Repblicans, last June, of declining to recommend a criminal indictment of Clinton – even after she deleted 33,000 email following subpoena – announced that the FBI had uncovered new evidence in the case. In a letter to lawmakers, Comey said the FBI would take “appropriate investigative steps” to determine whether the newly discovered emails, uncovered, “in connection to an unrelated case,” contain classified information and to assess whether they are relevant to the Clinton server case.
Many considered the deleting of emails, during the summer, and subsequent wiping of the server using a special tool called ‘BleachBit’ to ensure no data could be recovered, even after the FBI demanded them, rose to the level of obstruction of justice. The criminal act, which includes destroying physical evidence material to an investigation by prosecutors or other government officials, comes with a maximum 25-year sentence.
BleachBit advertises that the application, “includes advanced features such as shredding files to prevent recovery, wiping free disk space to hide traces of files deleted by other applications.” It is an electronic sanitizer when used to wipe data clean.
Clinton claimed the ‘bleached’ communications were related to personal matters (yoga and her daughter’s wedding, among them). Still, by ‘BleachBitting’ her server, even pro-Clinton voters might find the candidate to be pathologically secretive about the mundane. Could there have been emails related to Benghazi, ‘pay for play’ and other topics of national interest? Was any sensitive information exposed to unauthorized interlopers? .
Chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowder (R,S.C.) lamented, “even God can’t read them (the emails).” (That’s fortunate for Clinton because as we all know, George W. Bush talks to God – or at least claims to – and he’s a Republican.)
Fast-forward to Saturday, the day after Comey’s letter (letterbomb?): “As much as Clinton advisers stressed that they were not panicking, some of them radiated anger at Mr. Comey, Mr. Weiner and even Mrs. Clinton herself — a reflection of 18 months of frustration that her personal decisions about her email practices and privacy were still generating unhelpful political drama at this stage of the race,” writes the New York Times.
Reading between the lines, one can infer something of a backlash occurring against Abedin. She had long been the object of fascination and jealousy among Clinton staffers for her proximity to the candidate. Her association with Clinton began when she was an intern in the 1990s and continued when Clinton joined the Senate. Rather than wielding influence, Wikileaks reveals Abedin had a knack for channeling her boss – becoming a kind of human google search engine on the backstory of issues that, at any given time, might be reverberating inside the head of HRC as she referred to Clinton in her emails.
To the heads of the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and lawyer, Cheryl Mills, Abedin was an invaluable source, offering information unsullied by opinion upon which, they could both formulate their strategic advice to the candidate. Lesser members of the team were awed by her knowledge. But unlike Podesta and Mills, Clinton never considered Abedin to be a peer.
Abedin’s resentment comes through in previously leaked emails. Other emails, leaked by the anti-secrecy group, Wikileaks reveal Abedin deriding Clinton, infering she needed handholding. Stressing to a colleague to remind Clinton of an early morning call with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2013, she wrote, “Very imp(ortant) to do that (go over the call schedule with Clinton). She’s often confused.”
Abedin was already pinned as a weak link. To many she showed poor judgment standing by Weiner after Barack Obama had publicly said he should resign from Congress. Worse, she participated in a documentary on his circus-like run for mayor of New York City – an attempt to rehabilitate his image – but which only served to bring up the sexting scandals again, and portray both Weiner and Abedin as stony distant careerists, hardly forthcoming about the events, which had rocked their world.
It wasn’t long before murmurs abounded about Abedin mistaking her proximity to power as power itself: the shine making her the star. The more she spoke up for Weiner, the more she seemed to like the limelight – until Weiner’s proclivity for scandal drover to separate from him and move back into Clinton’s shadow.
With Abedin’s prior emails behind them, it’s what hasn’t come out that is worrying the Clinton Camp. Over the course of investigating Weiner for yet another sexting scandal (his third) – this time with a teenager, agents seized a laptop computer Weiner shared with Abedin. The bureau found the emails now being examined on this shared device.
This new evidence, according to FBI sources, relates to how Abedin managed her emails. She maintained four email accounts—an unclassified State Department account, another on the clintonemail.com domain and a third on Yahoo. The fourth was linked to her husband’s account; she used it to support his activities when he was running for Congress, investigative records show.
Abedin, who, apparently, did not know Clinton used a private server for her emails, told the FBI in an April interview that she used the account on the clintonemail.com domain only for issues related to the Secretary’s personal affairs, such as communicating with her friends. For work-related records, Abedin primarily used the email account provided to her by the State Department.
Because Clinton preferred to read documents on paper rather than on a screen, emails and other files were often printed out and provided to her either at her office or home, where they were delivered in a diplomatic pouch by a security agent. Abedin, like many State Department officials, found the government network technology to be cumbersome, and she had great trouble printing documents there, investigative records show. Consequently, she sometimes transferred emails from her unclassified State Department account to either her terribly unsecured Yahoo account or her account on Clinton’s server, and printed the emails from there. It is not clear whether she ever transferred official emails to the account she used for her husband’s campaign.
Abedin would use this procedure for printing documents when she received emails she believed Clinton needed to see and when the Secretary forwarded emails to her for printing. Abedin told the FBI she would often print these emails without reading them. Abedin printed out a large number of emails this way, in part because, investigative records show, other staff members considered her Clinton’s “gatekeeper” and often sent Abedin electronic communications they wanted the Secretary to see.
This procedure for printing documents, the government official says, appears to be how the newly discovered emails ended up on the laptop shared by Abedin and her husband. It is unclear whether any of those documents were downloaded onto the laptop from personal email accounts or were saved on an external storage device, such as a flash drive, and then transferred to the shared computer. There is also evidence that the laptop was used to send emails from Abedin to Clinton; however, unless she was told by Abedin in every instance, Clinton could not have known what device her aide was using to transmit electronic information to her.
If the FBI determines that any of the documents that ended up on the shared device were classified, Abedin could be deemed to have mishandled them. To prove that was a criminal offense, however, investigators would have to establish that Abedin had intended to disclose the contents of those classified documents, or that she knew she was mishandling that information.
On the issue of mishandling, if the documents were not classified, no crime was committed. That said, the emails could contain information pertinent to her dual role in the last eight months of Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. During this period, Abedin left the State Department to apportion her time between two paying jobs at the Clinton Foundation and a consulting firm called Teneo Holdings (a firm co-founded by top Bill Clinton aide, Doug Band). At the same time, she was rehired by the State Department, ironically, through a program to bring talented private sector outsiders into government. Her title was “Special Government Employee.”
Teneo Holdings CEO is Declan Kelley, an Irish American whom Clinton appointed as Special Economic Envoy to Ireland during her tenure as Secretary of State. According to Politico, “while serving as Clinton’s special envoy, reaching out to global corporations for those investments, he was also working for two of them as a private consultant — earning about $2.4 million from Dow Chemical, a longtime client of his and one of the firms that participated in Clinton’s Ireland initiative.”
It was also during this period that Kelly and Band were preparing to launch their global consulting business Teneo Holdings, that would soon become a well-known and controversial success story. The company would go on to employ numerous Clinton associates, including confidante, Abedin, and, for a time, Bill Clinton as “honorary chairman,” giving clients rare access to the couple and their network of world leaders. That Abedin could maintain her connection to the State Department through manipulation of the special outsiders’ hiring program was surely a bonus to the venture.
Bloomberg reported that, “Abedin’s multitasking in the final eight months of Hillary Clinton’s time as the top U.S. diplomat — and her role as intermediary for some of the same players before that — are drawing renewed scrutiny … Abedin has become the personification of an election-year debate over whether the nonprofit foundation will create conflicts of interest if Clinton wins the White House.”
“The Clinton Foundation for Hillary Clinton is kind of a walking conflict-of-interest problem,” Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said in an interview. “Clearly this notion that it could continue to operate while she was secretary of state — it was a built-in problem. If you’re really looking at what should happen if she’s elected, neither her husband nor her daughter, certainly no relative, should have any connection with the foundation.”
When Clinton was awaiting confirmation as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state in 2009, she wrote a letter to the State Department’s chief ethics officer promising that she wouldn’t “participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that has a direct and predictable effect upon this foundation, unless I first obtain a written waiver or qualify for a regulatory exemption.”
But that “did not preclude other State Department officials from having contact with the Clinton Foundation staff,” just as they “are regularly in touch with a wide variety of outside individuals and organizations,” said a State Department spokesperson during the Benghazi probe.
It certainly didn’t preclude a “special government employee” who works for these very non-profit and for-profit entities who might facilitate such communication to do just that. In other words, it would have Abedin’s responsibility to act as a liaison for, ‘pay for play,’ when Clinton Secretary of State in order to give Clinton plausible deniability in any conflict of interest.
Hence, more than Clinton’s own emails, Abedin’s mails are more worrisome to the Clinton campaign. If she is as careless as she seems, within them may lie the smoking gun. One email from Abedin to Clinton connecting her to a donor for whom some favour was done, could be the end. Whether such an email exists remains to be seen
The Clinton campaign expressed exasperation. Campaign Chair John Podesta said it was, “extraordinary that we would see something like this just 11 days out from a presidential election.”
Other supporters went on the attack: “The F.B.I. has a history of extreme caution near Election Day so as not to influence the results,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said in a statement. “Today’s break from that tradition is appalling.”
According to a letter Comey sent to the chairs of several Congressional committee on Friday, he learned of these new emails on Thursday, October 27.
His decision to immediately reveal this discovery was not a partisan act. He was obligated to do so because of a previous statement he had made to Congress. In September, he testified that the bureau had completed its review of the evidence in the case and found no crimes had been committed. With the discovery of the information on the laptop shared by Weiner and Abedin, that sworn statement was no longer true, and there was new evidence that needed to be examined. As a result, Comey was obligated to inform the committees as quickly as possible that his previous statement was now incorrect.
So, are we closer to knowing the truth? Not really. But we know there is more that we don’t know. (If this isn’t an Applebeeism, it should be.)
Whatever is known or unknown, for Trump, Comey’s announcement was enough. “I think this changes everything,” he told a reporter, yesterday. “Perhaps, finally, justice will be done,” he declared, exuberantly, at a campaign rally in New Hampshire.
Really, justice, Donald – what about Karma? Perhaps one of the biggest ironies to end the race is the fact that Trump who would have banned Abedin from entering the US for being Muslim, now relies on her carelessness to undo his rival. ‘Ah…but she’s one of the good ones,’ he might say next. Might he hire her for Muslim outreach, be the brown Omarosa? Just a thought.
With just nine days to go, the Clinton camp tenses over whether the Gatekeeper has opened the floodgates. Certainly, as polls show the race tightening to a lead of just 4% with 15% remaining undecided, the Clinton campaign has good reason to be concerned. What was assumed to be a fait accompli, is turning out to be a real nail-biter.