Politics & Policy

Clinton’s Cover-Up Team

Cheryl Mills (Michael Buckner/Getty)
Cheryl Mills, among others, has been greasing the wheels of the Clintons’ secrecy machine for decades.

Hillary Clinton explains her use of a private e-mail account and a secret server to conduct State Department business as a matter of “convenience.” But congressional investigators are almost as interested in the fact that two of her closest advisers, personal aide Huma Abedin and chief of staff Cheryl Mills, also had e-mail addresses on the secret server. Were they also interested in “convenience” or intent on shielding their work from public-record requests?

For many years, the two women have served as Hillary’s inner-palace guard. In turn, she has gone the extra mile to keep them close. In 2012, Abedin was granted status as a “special government employee,” allowing her to collect a State Department paycheck while skirting disclosure rules about her holding down lucrative private-sector jobs — among them work with the controversial Clinton-family foundation.

Cheryl Mills’s link with Mrs. Clinton goes back even further than Abedin’s. The 49-year-old Stanford Law graduate joined Team Clinton before Bill Clinton was even sworn in as president in 1993, serving as deputy general counsel for his transition team. She later became one of two deputy counsels to the president before becoming one of his top lawyers during his 1999 Senate impeachment trial. At the time, a White House colleague, speaking to the Washington Post, praised Mills’s loyalty to the Clintons: “If something’s on the other side of a brick wall and the Clintons need it, she’ll find a way to get to it: over, around, or through.” The Post noted that Mills had “endeared herself to the Clintons with her never-back-down, share-nothing, don’t-give-an-inch approach,” the same style prevalent today in Hillary’s e-mail controversy.

And that style is also prevalent in the way that various officials seem to have exerted efforts to ensure that the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi won’t embarrass Hillary. Ray Maxwell, a former assistant secretary of state for North Africa, has told reporters that Mills was one of several Clinton aides who on a Sunday afternoon “separated” out Benghazi-related documents that might put Clinton or her team in a “bad light.” These documents were kept out of the pile that the State Department turned over to the Accountability Review Board that was investigating Benghazi. When Maxwell stumbled upon the operation, which was taking place in a “basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington,” he questioned whether it was above-board. “Isn’t that unethical?” he asking the office director in charge of the weeding-out process. “Ray, those are our orders,” she answered. A few minutes later, Mills entered the room and challenged Maxwell over his presence, asking him, “Who are you?”

#related#Mills was also eager to make sure that no one talked too much about Benghazi. E-mails obtained by Judicial Watch show that it was Mills who told Victoria Nuland, then a State Department spokeswoman, to stop answering key media questions about Benghazi.

Later, Gregory Hicks, the acting deputy chief of mission in Benghazi, testified before Congress in 2013 that after he spoke with congressional investigators, he received a furious phone call from Mills, who severely reprimanded him; State Department lawyers instructed Hicks that neither he nor his staff should allow themselves to be “personally interviewed” by members of Congress. Shortly thereafter, Hicks told me, he was demoted to the job of desk officer and brought home to the States.

A 2012 inspector-general report also found that Mills interfered in an investigation involving Brett McGurk, who had been appointed ambassador to Iraq but was accused of sharing sensitive government information with a reporter.

More Hillary: “It’s Hillary All the Way Down,” by Jonah Goldberg

Earlier examples of the Mills Method of Scandal Concealment date all the way back to the 1990s. She was one of three White House lawyers who urged President Clinton to release private government records on Kathleen Willey, a Democratic campaign worker who had accused Clinton of assaulting her in the White House. A federal court later found that the violation of privacy was “an unlawful action.” It was a clear effort to discredit Willey, who now says the pattern of behavior against her by Mrs. Clinton and her cronies represent “a real war on women.”

Mills was also involved in an earlier Clinton e-mail scandal. In 2000, the conservative law firm Judicial Watch found while pursuing public-record requests that the Clinton administration had withheld more than 1.8 million e-mails from Judicial Watch’s attorneys, federal investigators, and Congress.

Betty Lambuth, a White House computer contractor, testified that White House officials told her to keep the existence of the e-mails a secret and threatened to fire her if she did not. After Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit, Mills admitted she had known that the missing e-mails existed but “assumed” someone else would take care of the issue. When the case finally was resolved by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in 2008, he found no obstruction of justice but singled out Mills’s behavior as “loathsome.” He found that she had made “the most critical error in this entire fiasco” and that her actions had been “totally inadequate.”

More Hillary: “A Monster of Our Own,” by Kevin D. Williamson

An earlier document scandal also revealed Mills’s style. Sonya Gilliam, who in the 1990s was responsible for Freedom of Information requests at the Commerce Department, was appalled at how Mills and the White House handled requests for information about whether seats on Commerce Department trade missions had been tied to Clinton’s 1996 reelection fundraising. In an interview with journalist Sharyl Attkisson in October 2014, she recalled that her superiors often told her the document production was delayed because it had to be “coordinated” with Cheryl Mills at the White House. “I was amazed and really just gobsmacked when I saw the White House involved to the level that it was,” she told Attkisson. When she learned of Mills’s alleged involvement in concealing Benghazi documents, she recognized a pattern. “My stomach dropped,” she said. “Here we are, 14 or 15 years later, [and] Cheryl Mills is still in charge of ‘document production’ [for the Clintons] — I’ll use that term loosely.”

Mills may no longer be at the State Department, but her legacy of slippery evasion lives on. Last week, reporters asked State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf about a 2011 cable that Hillary Clinton’s office sent ordering employees not to use personal e-mail for government business, owing to security concerns.

“Her name is at the bottom of the cable, as is practiced for cables coming from Washington,” Harf said, referring to Mrs. Clinton. “Some think she wrote it, which is not accurate.” Even though the cable carried her full authority, Hillary’s actual responsibility for it seems to depends on just what the meaning of “wrote” is.

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for National Review Online.

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