After An Email To Hillary, Company Directed By Ambassador Joe Wilson Was Awarded Africa Contract
Less than a year after former ambassador Joe Wilson sent an email directly lobbying Sec. of State Hillary Clinton on behalf of a company he was consulting, a small governmental agency that Clinton chaired gave the firm, Symbion Power, a lucrative contract to help develop Tanzania’s power grid.
Wilson’s pitch, which was sent through Sidney Blumenthal, was among the thousands of Clinton emails released by the State Department on Tuesday.
In her capacity as secretary of state, Clinton served as chair of the board for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a federal agency started in 2004 to help develop projects in foreign countries. One of the countries MCC began to help in 2008, before Clinton’s tenure, is Tanzania, the east African nation to the south of Ethiopia.
By 2010, MCC began awarding contracts to energy companies as part of a $698 million compact with the Tanzanian government. And one of the beneficiaries of that agreement was Symbion, which was awarded a nearly $50 million contract in September 2010 to provide electricity throughout the country.
Wilson had just taken a job at Symbion as director in charge of the company’s Africa operations, he informed Clinton in a Nov. 10, 2009, email. The role fit Wilson, an expert on Africa who in 1992 was appointed by former President George H.W. Bush to serve Ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe. Bill Clinton brought Wilson on in 1997 as a special assistant and Africa advisor to the National Security Council.
Wilson left the White House in 1998 but maintained his ties to the Clintons upon entering the consulting world, where he leveraged his Africa connections.
Seeking new business for Symbion, Wilson asked Blumenthal, who emails show was in constant contact with Clinton, to forward his pitch to her. Blumenthal did so minutes later.
Though Clinton responded to Blumenthal shortly after, it is unclear what she said. Her response has been redacted and retroactively classified by the federal government citing national security concerns. That email exchange with Blumenthal is one of the 25 emails that were re-classified just before Tuesday’s release. (RELATED: Some Clinton Emails Have Been Retroactively Classified, Including A Business Pitch From Joe Wilson)
In his email, Wilson touted Symbion, which is headquartered in Washington D.C. and opened for business in 2005.
“As I wrote to you earlier, I am a director for Symbion Power and may soon assume more direct responsibility for all of Africa as Symbion expands there from its current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Wilson wrote.
He noted that Blumenthal had previously given Clinton a four minute video detailing that company’s “success in the most difficult and dangerous environments.”
“We now want to bring that business model and philosophy to Africa where the social entrepreneurship and the development of skilled labor is imperative for Africa’s long term economic prospects, as you have so forcefully articulated in past comments,” Wilson added.
“With our record of success elsewhere, we are certain that our approach to project development and execution will mesh nicely with African needs and U.S. policy priorities,” he concluded, before wishing Clinton and her family happy holidays.
After that lobbying effort — which is not included in any federal lobbying records maintained by the U.S. Senate — the Clinton-chaired MCC awarded Symbion a $47.7 million contract. North Carolina-based Pike Electric was awarded one for $17.9 million.
That contract was followed up with visible support from Clinton. She gave a speech at Symbion’s Dar es Salaam plant on June 12, 2011, where she was joined by MCC CEO Daniel Yohannes and Symbion CEO Paul Hinks. Clinton made no mention of Wilson during the event.
As with many dealings involving Bill and Hillary Clinton’s backers and friends, there is no direct evidence that she directed help to Wilson or Symbion. But Wilson’s pitch to Clinton and MCC’s subsequent action at least creates the appearance of political favoritism. It’s the type of mutual back-scratching laid out in Peter Schweizer’s recent book, “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Make Bill and Hillary Rich.”
The Clinton campaign did not return a request for comment. Nor did MCC. Minutes for the agency’s board meetings only go back to 2013.
Schweizer’s book, which marshaled an all-hands-on-deck response from Clinton surrogates, lays out numerous relationships between Bill and Hillary, their Clinton Foundation and wealthy businessmen. The author provides numerous examples of businessmen and companies paying the Clintons for speeches or gaving to their charity and then finding themselves with lucrative business opportunities.
The Symbion deal with Wilson, who is no longer actively engaged with the company, has the same flavor.
Wilson, who came to national attention in 2002 after he debunked the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking yellowcake uranium in Niger, threw his political support behind Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid.
In a scathing 2007 article at the Huffington Post, Wilson endorsed Clinton for president and hammered then-Illinois U.S. Sen. Obama for his lack of international experience. He also slammed Obama for failing to speak up in opposition to the Iraq War.
“After he came to Washington, Obama’s views were thoroughly conventional and even timid,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson also maintained ties to Bill Clinton, who was traveling the globe to advance the Clinton Foundation. In Aug. 2008, Wilson joined the former president and a slew of political and Hollywood celebrities on a tour of Africa on behalf of the charity, The Washington Post reported at the time.
According to Schweizer, it was also believed that after Clinton was nominated as secretary of state that she wanted to appoint Wilson to a senior position within the agency. But Republicans would oppose the hire and the move was never made.
Wilson’s coziness with Clinton helped another company he worked for develop and maintain business relationships with African warlords, Schweizer asserts in “Clinton Cash.”
In 2007, U.S.-based Jarch Capital hired Wilson as vice president.
“Ambassador Wilson will be instrumental in the growth of Jarch as it expands in Africa, sometimes in politically sensitive areas,” the company said when announcing the hire.
In Jan. 2009, Jarch took out a 50-year lease on around 1 million acres of land in South Sudan. The deal, which brought Jarch oil and uranium rights in the war-torn nation, was struck with Gabriel Matip, the son of a deputy commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, a rebel faction.
Jarch’s chairman, Philippe Heilberg, knew that the company would have to rely on the warlord’s muscle to protect the company’s interests. But that was just the cost of doing business, Heilberg told the Financial Times.
“You have to go to the guns: this is Africa,” Heilberg was quoted as saying.
Jarch developed ties with other Sudanese warlords during Wilson’s tenure, Schweizer noted.
In 2010, the company hired another adviser, Gabriel Tanginya. Known locally as General Tang, the warlord had flipped his alliance just days before joining Jarch. Once the leader of a pro-government militia, Tang joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a rebel faction that supported independence for South Sudan. Tang has been condemned for his war antics by groups such as Human Rights Watch.
Another Jarch adviser was Riek Machar, who became South Sudan’s vice president in 2011. In 2012, Machar apologized for his role in the 1991 “Bor massacre,” which left 2,000 Dinka civilians dead. Machar was a leader of SPLA-Nasir at the time.
In a statement to The Daily Caller, a spokesperson for Symbion said that Wilson was brought on “because of his experience in certain parts of Africa, which is extensive” and “not because of any long standing relationships he might have had elsewhere.”
“As a former Ambassador he must have a lot of contacts and we would think it entirely normal that he might want to advise some of his friends and former associates that he was back doing some work in Africa,” the spokesperson said. “That’s what people do.”