Politics & Policy

Blumenthal’s Advice to Hillary ‘Unsolicited’? E-mails Suggest Otherwise

Blumenthal on Capitol Hill, June 15, 2015. (Getty Images)

Despite an express ban on his employment by the Obama White House, newly released e-mails show how Hillary Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal operated as a shadow State Department employee during the first year of her term as secretary of state, sending her a steady stream of diplomatic memos and media advice even as her staff fretted over his possible discovery.

The professional relationship between Clinton and Blumenthal already has come under fire in the wake of leaked e-mails revealing extensive correspondence between the two on the 2011 Libyan revolution. In addition to the White House prohibition of his employment, concerns were raised over the sensitive nature of the intelligence being shared and the conflicts of interest regarding Blumethal’s employment at the Clinton Foundation and his business dealings in Libya. In May, Clinton said Blumenthal’s frequent communications had been “unsolicited.”

Hillary routinely asked Blumenthal for guidance on diplomatic policy and media messaging  with Blumenthal at times functioning as the secretary of state’s top speechwriter.

But the latest batch of e-mails from Clinton’s private server, released late Tuesday night by the State Department, shows otherwise. Despite his employment as an adviser to the Clinton Foundation, Hillary routinely asked Blumenthal for guidance on diplomatic policy and media messaging — with Blumenthal at times functioning as the secretary of state’s top speechwriter. She responded positively to his “confidential” intelligence memos, frequently forwarding the information to staff members with instructions to “pls print.” At one point, Blumenthal even appeared to use his influence to grease the wheels for a friend seeking a State Department job.

Between June and December of 2009, Blumenthal sent a slew of intelligence memos to Clinton on topics as diverse as Iran, the Transatlantic Economic Council, Afghanistan, and the 2009 U.K. parliamentary election. “New memo, decline and fall, etc.” read one subject line from November 26, containing a detailed report on how President Obama’s “denigration of the UK” has “shattered” the special relationship between the British and the United States. “Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving,” Clinton replied. “I will call again over the next few days.”

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Another, titled “Another memo on backdrop to this week,” was sent November 29. Containing information on Afghanistan, European Union politics, and how the press was covering intra–White House feuds, the document suggests the routineness with which such memos were received. Clinton asked detailed questions about the information provided. “I didn’t read the McD reference that way,” she said, referring to Blumenthal’s claim that the Washington Post “nailed” then–National Security Council official Denis McDonough for “trashing” Vice President Joe Biden. “I actually thought it was complimentary of his spin skills. What am I missing?”

Many other memos — including more than a dozen on the U.K. elections — Clinton forwarded to State Department staff with instructions to print them for her.

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Other e-mails suggest a closer policy relationship, with frequent phone calls between Blumenthal and Clinton regarding State Department matters. “Call fell off; more to discuss re: UK govt info,” read the subject line of one June 12 e-mail from Blumenthal. “Hillary: If you’re up, give me a call. Sid,” read another from June 23. “Are you still awake?” Blumenthal asked on October 8. “I will call if you are.”

A former reporter, Blumenthal appeared to play a key role in crafting Clinton’s media messaging. “Memo on speech attached and in text. For you and Cheryl only; no circulation,” he wrote to Clinton on July 9. Enclosed were voluminous notes “intended to give [Clinton] options and ideas” for her upcoming speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. “This speech can’t afford to be lackluster,” he advised. “It will then be held up in invidious comparison to Obama’s glittering best efforts.” He slammed the early draft of her speech for “contain[ing] passages of vague and gauzy liberal universalism” and “reflect[ing] blithe liberal cultural imperialism.”

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Another from November 5 contained advice for an upcoming speech in Berlin, on which Blumenthal CC’d multiple State Department employees, including Clinton aide Jake Sullivan. “The speechwriting crew is taking Sid’s points below and massaging them into a set of remarks,” Sullivan wrote to Hillary. “I hope we can achieve both power and poetry,” the secretary of state replied.

#related#Blumenthal’s familiarity with inter-department affairs went so deep that he felt comfortable lobbying Hillary to secure a State Department job for a friend. “[Name and information redacted] tells me he has tentatively offered a position, Jake Sullivan encouraged him, but that somehow the whole thing is tangled up and he hasn’t heard for weeks,” he wrote on December 29. “In the new year, can this get untangled? Thanks. Sid.” Clinton forwarded the memo to top aide Cheryl Mills. “What’s the story on this?” she asked.

Perhaps recognizing how Clinton’s tight working relationship with Blumenthal could cause problems — not least with President Obama — State Department staffers outside of the secretary’s immediate circle expressed concern over the arrangement. “FYI, we have heard from an AP reporter that Sydney [sic] outed himself about coming to the Department, mentioning it without realizing he was talking to someone who actually covers our building,” assistant secretary of state P. J. Crowley wrote to Clinton’s assistant on June 5. The assistant forwarded the e-mail to Clinton with a simple “FYI.”

The professional relationship between Clinton and Blumenthal was already under fire due to the White House prohibition of his employment, the sensitive nature of the intelligence being shared, and questions over conflicts of interest regarding Blumenthal’s employment at the Clinton Foundation and his business dealings in Libya.

The 3,000 pages of e-mails released by the State Department on Tuesday are one portion of the over 55,000 turned over by Clinton’s legal team late last year. They will be released on a monthly basis until January 2016.


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