On Wednesday, Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill waved off questions about how the two issues — the email server and Abedin’s unusual work arrangement — may or may not have overlapped, accusing the right of playing politics with this line of inquiry.
“It’s election season, and congressional Republicans are running the same series of plays, just on a different field,” Merrill said in an email, later adding that Abedin maintained her security clearance while she worked as a State contractor.
Merrill said SGEs often have clearance and there’s nothing unusual about her having such access. He also said that many government workers take on such contractor status, adding that Abedin had a green-light from State’s legal and human resources departments to do so.
But Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ project on government secrecy, said any former employee’s potential access to secret materials could be problematic after they leave the government.
“What happens if [a former government employee] still retains access through a prior server, to information that was justified by a previous position? That’s not supposed to happen — and that’s one of the anomalies that are created by the private server,” Aftergood said.
Classified materials with national security implications are supposed to be stored in a place where no one can gain access to them unless they have special clearance.
The FBI is currently probing Clinton’s email arrangement, whereby the former secretary of state used her own technology based out of her New York home instead of an official government address that is required by transparency rules. A State inspector general, who is also looking at the matter, said top Clinton aides would likely also be questioned, though he wouldn’t say who exactly.
At the same time, powerful congressional Republicans are probing Abedin’s “special government employee status,” while suggesting that she may have had a “conflict of interest.” The Senate Judiciary Committee claims to have unnamed tipster who says Abedin is or has been investigated for criminal misconduct by the State Department inspector general regarding this very issue.
The government watchdog wouldn’t comment on the accusations. And Abedin’s legal team — which is separate from Clinton’s — says it knows of no investigative reports that suggest such misconduct.
“We are aware only of an IG report focused on her maternity leave and vacation and we responded with a letter disputing the report’s conclusions, which we gave to members of the media who requested it,” her lawyers said in a statement. “Obviously, if the report covered other things, our letter would have as well. The IG will have to respond as to his investigations.”
The latest revelations come just as Abedin, the vice chairwoman of Hillary for America, is projected to be taking on more responsibilities for thecampaign, heading up fundraisers and speaking to donors on Clinton’s behalf.
Beyond allegations of conflict of interest, Senate Republicans in recent weeks leaked findings by the State Department inspector general that Abedin was overpaid nearly $10,000 for “unused” time off that she actually took but did not record while working at State — a finding her lawyers are currently challenging.
Abedin, who’s been with Clinton for about two decades, started working for Clinton as a 19-year-old intern in the former first lady’s office.
At State and during the 2008 campaign she was considered Clinton’s “body woman,” never far from Clinton’s side and often seen watching her boss intently, ready to scramble to her aid at any minute. Top politicians, and even Bill Clinton, would phone her to reach Hillary, and emails released in recent months showed she enjoyed access to Clinton at her private home, too, dropping items off on her counter and instructing her how to dress and keeping her schedule.
In 2013, news broke that Abedin had been given a special government employee status, allowing her to be simultaneously on the payroll for the philanthropic Clinton Foundation and Teneo, a consulting firm founded by former Clinton White House adviser Doug Band. She previously had not disclosed the dual employment.
Abedin has said she stepped back from government work and became a contractor so she could be with her family and her newborn son. But since then, critics have questioned her about whether she had a conflict of interest while working at State and alongside close friends of the Clinton family.
For two years now, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a bullish Iowa Republican who’s very active in a number of mundane executive branch oversight issues, has been asking for more details about her employment situation but has received little in the way of answers.
Huma Abedin goes over notes with Clinton during her visit to the newly opened University Teaching Hospital Pediatric Centre of Excellence, in Lusaka, Zambia, June 11, 2011. | AP Photo
He’s recently escalated his demands for more information after a source told the panel that the State Department inspector general had probed Abedin not only for overpayment issues but also over a potential conflict of interest. The source was able to specify that Abedin and Band were on more than 7,000 emails together while she worked at State and detailed an apparent October 2013 letter to the FBI that clarified that the watchdog’s probe was looking at potential criminal misconduct.
Abedin’s lawyers believe many of the 7,000 emails are likely just Clinton schedules or other types of automatic notices that have both of their emails on a distribution list together, not direct communications.
Grassley has asked the FBI, State inspector general and State Department for more information about this probe — including whether it even exists.
He has also asked Abedin’s lawyers about the matter but has not heard back.
“Much of the information sought by Senator Grassley’s letter will need to be produced by the State Department and we have been in touch with State,” Dunn said in an email.
Clinton on Monday declared under penalty of perjury that she handed over all her work emails to the State Department for record-keeping purposes; Abedin declined a judge’s request to do the same.
Dunn said Abedin, who was among 10 State Department officials asked by their former agency to hand over any work-related messages on personal emails, expects to turn over all her official correspondence to the State Department by Aug. 28. On Wednesday, Dunn declined to say whether Abedin will then do the same as Clinton and swear under penalty of perjury that she has handed over all official records.
It is unclear whether all her official emails on Clinton’s server were saved.