It was probably inevitable that the woman always at Hillary Clinton’s side would one day be sucked into the vortex of suspicion and scandal surrounding the Democratic presidential frontrunner. For top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, that day seems to have arrived.
Though rumors of impropriety have swirled around Abedin for over two years, in the past two weeks they’ve snowballed into concrete allegations. Last week, the State Department inspector general claimed that the trusted Clinton confidant owes the government nearly $10,000 for violating rules regarding vacation and sick leave. And in court on Monday, Hillary Clinton admitted Abedin had an e-mail account on the now-infamous private server run out of Clinton’s house while she was secretary of state, and that the account “was used at times for government business.” State Department investigators say they’ve now expanded a probe into Clinton’s use of private e-mail to include “top aides,” meaning Abedin is almost certainly under federal investigation for the possible exchange of unsecured, classified data.
Is Abedin the new Doug Band, the longtime Bill Clinton aide who eventually became a liability for the former first family’s political ambitions? And will Abedin’s escalating scandals compel the Clintons to cut her loose, just as they jettisoned Band?
Band began his career as a lowly “body man” for then-President Clinton in the mid 90s, but soon morphed into a key aide in Clinton’s post-White House life. He was the gatekeeper to the former president and one of the chief architects of the Clinton Foundation’s Global Initiative. Many described him as the son Clinton never had.
A 2013 article in The New Republic detailed how Band’s decision to found private consulting firm Teneo Holdings in 2010 caused a rift in the Clintons’ inner circle. The former aide aggressively touted his relationship with the Clintons to prospective clients, and the Clintons worried about their ostensible connection to scandals such as the one surrounding Teneo patron and disgraced MF Global CEO Jon Corzine. Band’s relentless push to capitalize on his Clinton connections brought his loyalty into question, and the relationship soured before he left his position at the Clinton Foundation in May of this year.
Like Band, Abedin worked her way up in the Clinton political machine. From her start as Hillary Clinton’s White House intern, she rose to become the former first lady’s right-hand woman at both the Clinton Foundation and the State Department. She is said to carefully control access to Clinton, and the two are extremely close — at Abedin’s wedding, Clinton described her as “a second daughter.”
Abedin’s behavior may soon become a drag on her boss’s presidential prospects.
But much like Band’s ultimately did, Abedin’s behavior may soon become a drag on her boss’s presidential prospects. On July 31, Grassley exposed the State Department inspector general’s finding that Abedin owed $9,858 to the government for unauthorized vacations and leaves of absence. Abedin’s lawyers dispute the claim, saying she was working even while on vacation in Italy and during her maternity leave. The probe, which Grassley says may be criminal in nature, is ongoing.
This isn’t Grassley’s first look into Abedin’s time at the State Department. For over two years, he has sought answers on her simultaneous employment as a consultant at Teneo — Doug Band’s firm — and as Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at Foggy Bottom.
Between June 2012 and February 2013, Abedin was granted “special government employee” status, enabling her to function both as Clinton’s right-hand woman at State and as a consultant to Teneo. Concerned that Abedin may have leveraged her high-level government position to benefit Teneo’s clients, in August 2013 Grassley requested that the State Department turn over all official communications between Abedin and Band.
That request remains unfulfilled, despite the Judiciary Committee chairman’s numerous inquiries over the past two years. Last week, the senator said the department wouldn’t even return his staff’s phone calls. Allan Blutstein, a former government FOIA attorney, says that the State Department’s delay “seems unusual,” since documents requested by the chairperson of a congressional committee are generally released expeditiously, absent claims of executive privilege. “Most agencies, to maintain effective relations, will process those requests as quickly as practicable,” he says. “Two years is a long time not to respond to a committee chair’s request.”
Nevertheless, Grassley appears to have gained some knowledge of Abedin’s Teneo-related communications without State’s help. A letter released by his office on July 30 claims there are over 7,300 e-mails between Abedin and Band on her official government account. In one, Band allegedly urges Abedin to ask Hillary Clinton to intercede with President Obama on behalf of one of his clients, Judith Rodin, who was seeking a White House job. As president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Rodin had steered hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to the Clinton Foundation — something Band reportedly noted in the e-mail.
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Last week, Grassley accused the State Department of “a pattern of conduct that clearly demonstrates a lack of cooperation and bad faith.” On August 5, he placed a Senate hold on the department’s nomination of an important assistant secretary. The next day, he announced his intention to place holds on 20 more State nominees. “The department must recognize that it has an obligation to respond to congressional inquiries in a timely and reasonable manner,” he said in a press release. (The State Department did not respond to NR’s request for comment.)
Clinton’s enemies are confident that they can prove the link between Abedin’s alleged misdeeds and Clinton herself.
Other officials have also expressed frustration over the State Department’s delay in producing Abedin’s communications. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, presiding over an Associated Press lawsuit, slammed the department for its slow response on July 20 and ordered expedited processing of the e-mails. “It appears they didn’t get anything done for two years,” Leon said.
With pressure building on multiple fronts, the documents detailing Abedin’s relationship with Teneo are likely to be released soon. If those documents prove damaging, the Clintons may have to decide whether she is too much of a liability to keep around.
Still, it would be surprising if the Clintons cut ties with Abedin the way they did with Band. The State Department’s approval of her request for the special status needed to work at Teneo suggests she joined the consulting firm with Hillary Clinton’s blessing. The scandal now engulfing Abedin over her use of a private e-mail account is the same one that’s already swallowed her boss. And unlike Band’s, Abedin’s loyalty to the Clintons has never been questioned.“Huma Abedin has spent nearly two decades in public service, and is widely known to be one of the hardest-working people in government,” says Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill. “She is smart, loyal, compassionate, and she is an invaluable part of the team. Period.”
Some political analysts doubt that an Abedin scandal, or a series of scandals, would damage the Clinton campaign. “The average person has no idea who Huma Abedin is, and I expect that to be the case throughout the campaign,” says Nathan Gonzales, co-founder of the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report. “If someone is taking issue with any of her actions, they probably weren’t going to vote for Clinton anyway.”
But Clinton’s enemies are confident that they can prove the link between Abedin’s alleged misdeeds and Clinton herself. “The motivations of why Huma is doing these things for the Clinton Foundation and for Teneo are important,” says David Bossie, a perennial Clinton foe whose organization Citizens United is pursuing its own lawsuit for Abedin’s records. “All roads lead back to Bill and Hillary Clinton.”
— Brendan Bordelon is a political reporter at National Review.