There is not a doubt in my military mind, as an old college pal and Vietnam veteran used to put it, that Republican so-called investigations into Benghazi, Hillary Clinton’s email, and longtime Clinton assistant Huma Abedin have but one aim: to torpedo Clinton’s candidacy for president. That said, more than a few aspects of les affaires Clinton are baffling.
Use of a private email account and server in her role as Secretary of State calls Clinton’s judgment into question, if nothing else. Why hand your enemies a cudgel with which to pound you? Many of us have multiple email accounts, one or more for our work and one or more personal accounts. While on occasion personal communication may slop over onto a professional account and vice versa, no great effort or ingenuity is required to keep them separate for the most part. This is routine in the 21st century. It should have been a no-brainer.
The security issue should be weighed in light of hacks at OMB, IRS, and any number of other government and private sector computer systems. Presumption of privacy and security of information is a quaint relic of another era. The Chinese, the NSA, and Russian mobsters could have access to pretty much anything. This is not to suggest that they do have everything or that security efforts should be abandoned on grounds of futility, only that we should not delude ourselves.
Huma Abedin is said to be Hillary Clinton’s closest aide. Their relationship dates to 1996, when Abedin began working in the White House as an intern assigned to Clinton’s staff while a student at George Washington University. She has since served Clinton in a variety of roles as aide and adviser in a relationship that is personal as well as professional. Clinton has said that if she had a second daughter, it would be Huma. Another Clinton aide described Abedin as “a little like Radar on M*A*S*H”:
I’m not sure Hillary could walk out the door without Huma…. If the air-conditioning is too cold, Huma is there with the shawl. She’s always thinking three steps ahead of Hillary. (communications aide Mandy Grunwald, quoted by Easton in Fortune)
Abedin is pulled into the Clinton email imbroglio by potential conflicts of interest related to multiple part-time jobs she held while at State as a “special government employee,” a legitimate classification that allowed her to hold outside positions with Teneo Holdings as adviser/consultant to private clients and the Clinton Foundation while advising Clinton as a State Department employee and serving as Clinton’s personal assistant.
Teneo is “a global advisory firm that partners exclusively with the CEOs and senior leaders of many of the world’s largest and most complex companies and organizations… Teneo’s clients include the CEOs of many Fortune 100 companies across a diverse range of industry sectors.” Among Teneo’s founders is Doug Band, who began working in the Clinton White House in 1995, first in the White House Counsel’s office, later in the Oval Office as the president’s aide, special assistant to the president, and deputy assistant to the president. He was Bill Clinton’s chief adviser from 2002 to 2012.
It is not surprising that Band would contact Abedin for help getting a client, Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and a supporter of the Clinton Foundation, appointed to a position on the President’s Global Development Council. I believe the technical term for this kind of thing is networking. As best I can tell there is no indication that Abedin did anything improper. If she did, it was ineffectual, as Rodin never got the appointment.
Is it improper to wonder why Abedin felt she needed to work four jobs to make ends meet? Was she being paid minimum wage by the State Department? What precisely did she do for Teneo and the Clinton Foundation? How many hours a week did she devote to those jobs? Did she do work at one while “on the clock” for another? Was her salary at Teneo and Clinton Foundation for tangible work or for who she is and who she knows, which is to say, for access to the Obama administration at its highest levels?
We do not know if Abedin’s potential conflicts of interest were properly vetted. This kind of thing feeds public cynicism about government that plays into the hands of the antigovernment zealots and demagogues. Clinton has failed to dispel the appearance that she and her staff at State were entirely too casual about these matters. There is more smoke than fire to date, and to my mind not all that much smoke, but there is enough to raise eyebrows even among those less inclined to question Clinton’s bona fides than Senator Grassley and the howling mob behind him. Clinton does not handle this sort of thing deftly. It behooves her to offer an account of how conflicts of interest would be handled differently in a Clinton administration.
On the other hand, high government officials and lowly civil servants alike do not live in a bubble. People turn to former colleagues, people they know and respect, for advice and guidance and even to put in a good word for someone. Interactions of this sort are not in and of themselves wrongful. They do tend to be suspect, particularly when they occur at the intersection of government, wealth, and power. It is not too much to ask that individuals who accept roles at the highest level of government hold themselves to standards commensurate with their positions. A rigorous conflict of interest process does more than deter unethical behavior. It protects the reputations of good people from lies, slander, and innuendo.
My sense of Abedin is that she is an honorable woman of remarkable talent and accomplishment. People such as her are not served well when affairs of state are conducted in a way that provides an opening for a less honorable opposition to level charges of misconduct. Make no mistake, that opposition will go after Clinton and her associates whether they have legitimate grounds or not.
Time and facts as yet unrevealed could prove me wrong about Huma Abedin. For now I give weight to my instinct, based on what I know, which is fragmentary and incomplete. I also take into consideration the statements of John McCain in 2012, when he took to the floor of the Senate to defend Abedin against scurrilous accusations leveled by Michelle Bachman, Louie Gohmert, et al. that her family has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and that she is part of a conspiracy to infiltrate the Obama administration.
McCain described the allegations as “nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.”
Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully. I am proud to know Huma, and to call her my friend.
Rachael Bade, Hillary approved special status for aide Huma Abedin, Politico, 24 September 2015
Bade, Emails show Huma Abedin’s ties to private consulting firm, Politico, 23 September 2015
Nina Easton, How Huma Abedin became Hillary Clinton’s confidante and ‘translator’, Fortune, 10 June 2015
Josh Gerstein and Rachael Bade, Clinton camp: Clinton did not sign form on Abedin job change, Politico, 27 September 2015
Rosalin S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, How Huma Abedin operated at the center of the Clinton universe, Washington Post, 27 August 2015
Justin Wm. Moyer, Why Anthony Weiner lost another job, Washington Post, 17 September 2015
Ed O’Keefe, John McCain defends Human Abedin against accusations she’s part of conspiracy, Washington Post, 18 July 2012