When a company that listed former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson as a consulting director was stymied in its negotiations with General Electric over equipment it needed for a power plant project in Tanzania, the career diplomat knew just the person to get in touch with: Hillary Clinton.
Wilson directly emailed the then-secretary of state on July 20, 2011 asking her to intervene with GE’s CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, on behalf of Symbion Power. Founded in 2005, Symbion was paying Wilson $20,000 a month to help drum up business in Africa.
Clinton aimed to help Wilson, the email thread shows. She forwarded Wilson’s request to Johnnie Carson, the then-Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. In turn, he reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania. Alfonso Lenhardt, the U.S.’s ambassador to the east African nation, then got in touch with GE, the emails show. (RELATED: Ex-Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s ‘Embarrassing’ Emails To Hillary Part Of Bitter Legal Battle)
The exchange is included in the latest batch of Clinton emails released by the State Department. While the full extent of Clinton’s intervention is unclear, Wilson’s lobbying effort shows he believed his company’s setback could be fixed because of his friendship with Clinton. Wilson had served as ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe in the Bill Clinton White House. He also endorsed Hillary Clinton during her 2008 presidential bid.
Wilson had lobbied Clinton prior to his July 2011 effort, as The Daily Caller has extensively reported. In the fall of 2009, soon after Symbion hired Wilson, he began emailing Clinton directly and through their mutual friend, Sidney Blumenthal. Wilson sought a meeting with Clinton to discuss Symbion’s efforts in Tanzania.
Months after Wilson first reached out to Clinton, Symbion was awarded a $47 million grant by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a small federal agency chaired by Clinton in her capacity as secretary of state.
In his 2011 email, Wilson claimed that Tanzania was in the middle of an acute power crisis and that while Symbion was attempting to address the issue, it was being “stymied in our discussions with General Electric over the question of payment guarantees for purchase of the equipment.”
Wilson asked Clinton to broach the topic of the Tanzania plant with Immelt.
“I know that you mentioned that you were going to call Jeff lmmelt after your trip,” Wilson wrote. “When you make that call, I would appreciate your telling him that Symbion, which is already operating a GE plant in [Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam] can only expand that plant to meet the challenge if GE is prepared to share some of the inherent risk with us and waives the payment guarantee requirement.”
Wilson pressed Clinton to inform Immelt that GE risked little in the deal and asserted that “only by being more creative can we hope to be responsive to the crisis in Tanzania and GE can easily do its part to support your efforts in this ‘Partnership for Growth’ country.”
Clinton responded to the email, but not directly to Wilson. Instead, she emailed Carson, asking “could you pls find out more info about this for me before I respond?”
Carson investigated and contacted the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam. He reported back to Clinton that the ambassador, Lenhardt, would be reaching out to GE.
“GE would be well positioned to help Tanzania tap these types of energy through their innovative equipment,” Carson wrote in the email, much of which is redacted by the State Department citing deliberative privilege.
“GE has opened an office in Dar Es Salaam and is currently considering potential investments. Ambassador Lenhardt is in contact with GE and encouraging the company to get involved,” Carson added.
Symbion and GE appeared to have worked out their differences by 2013. According to news reports then, the companies signed a cooperation agreement in which GE provided project development support on a 400 megawatt natural gas-powered power plant in Mtwara.
It is unclear if Clinton, Carson or any other federal official was involved in talks to set up the deal.
Wilson’s relationship with Symbion eventually went sour, as legal documents obtained by TheDC show. In a lawsuit filed last month, Wilson claimed the company owes him $280,000 in unpaid fees. The company responded, accusing Wilson of causing it “embarrassment” by emailing Blumenthal and Clinton. The company’s co-founder, Paul Hinks, claimed that Wilson turned on Symbion after his request for an equity stake in the company was denied.
Wilson declined TheDC’s request for an interview. GE did not respond to a request for comment. The State Department declined comment and deferred to the Clinton campaign, which did not respond.
A State Department spokesman did issue comment to Vice News on the issue of Wilson’s contact with Clinton.
“Department of State officials receive communications from a wide variety of stakeholders as part of the routine work of managing foreign affairs,” State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach told Vice. “There is no restriction against an employee receiving communications from lobbyists for foreign governments or others.”
Despite Gerlach’s characterization of Wilson as a lobbyist, there are no federal records of him registering as one.