The State Department has released emails that appear to show that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was directly involved in approving a nominee for an inspector general under the agency’s control, leading one nonpartisan government oversight group to question whether she was picking an agency watchdog or an agency “lapdog.”
“Yesterday Cheryl approved nominating [redacted],” wrote Margaret Carpenter, who then served as Clinton’s senior adviser on political appointments, in a March 3, 2010 email to under secretary for management, Patrick Kennedy. Copied on the email was the Cheryl who was likely referenced in the email — Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills — and several State Department liaisons to the White House.
“Since these are unusual appointments and each has to be handled in a different way, can you please call me to discuss how we proceed?” Carpenter asked.
The name of Mills’ nominee is redacted throughout the email chain. It is also unclear which agency was being discussed.
At that time, the State Department did not have a permanent IG. Deputy Harold Geisel was the highest ranking official in the office. Another agency under the State Department’s control, U.S. Agency for International Development, had a permanent inspector general at the time. Donald Gambatesa was appointed by President George W. Bush in Jan. 2006 and served through Oct. 2011.
“Let me know if you DON’T want to proceed with [redacted],” Mills wrote to Clinton.
“Are you ok w him?” Clinton asked.
“Yes — he’ll be good,” Mills responded.
Scott H. Amey, the general counsel of the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight (POGO) questioned some of the exchanges in the emails. Morgan Freeman Narrates New Ad For Hillary Clinton
“It would be interesting to hear more about why ‘he’ll be good,'” Amey told The Daily Caller. “Is that a reference to being a good watchdog or a good lapdog?”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked about the emails — and Clinton’s apparent involvement in selected what is supposed to be an independent watchdog — during Monday’s press briefing.
He said he had not seen the emails and noted that whoever was being discussed in them was clearly not selected for the position. State’s inspector general position was unfilled when President Obama took office in January 2009. It remained vacant until after Clinton left office in February 2013. Obama nominated Steve Linick as State IG until June 2013.
While Obama was criticized for leaving the IG spots vacant for so long, Earnest maintained on Monday that “the appointment of independent inspectors general is something this administration has taken quite seriously.”
“Even if it had been the person would only have been selected by the administration and appointed by the president if there was strong confidence that that individual could effectively do their work independent of the agency and certainly independent of any outside influence,” Earnest said, while adding that he was not certain how the IG nomination process works.
Amey, whose group, POGO, is an advocate for strong, independent inspectors general and has criticized the Obama administration’s failure to fill the positions in a timely manner, expressed concern that Clinton may have had the opportunity to pick the official charged with keeping her and her agency in check.
“I certainly hope that agency heads are not part of the vetting team for IG positions,” Amey told TheDC, while adding, “I know how Washington works, and I’ll guess that they have some say in promoting or rejecting candidates and some of the lengthy IG vacancies.”
A toothless IG during Clinton’s tenure — the spot was held by deputy Harold Geisel — has been faulted for letting Clinton get away with using a personal email account and private email server during her stint at State. Geisel appears to have opened no investigations into Clinton’s email setup.
Update: A State Department official responded with a comment to this article.
“It’s standard for an agency head to work with senior staff to make a recommendation on nominees, including for the position of Inspector General,” the official said.
This article has also been corrected to reflect that USAID did have a permanent inspector general in place at the time the emails were sent.