A wealthy donor to Hillary Clinton’s campaigns and to the Clinton Foundation directly asked Clinton’s State Department staff to be considered for an appointment to a board overseeing arms control issues within the agency, newly released emails show.
“If there is any way I can be a part of the list of the final 25 I would be grateful. Please let me know if there is anything you need me to do,” reads a Sept. 11, 2009 email from the donor, Rajiv Fernando, to Clinton’s deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin.
Fernando, who has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation and tens of thousands to Clinton’s various campaigns, was eventually appointed to the International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) in 2011. The board provides independent advice to the State Department regarding arms control and international security.
Fernando’s lack of experience in those fields has raised questions about whether Clinton made the appointment in order to reward a high-dollar donor. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has been dogged by accusations that she has used her positions of power to reward political donors and corporate benefactors.
Fernando’s exchange with Abedin is part of a batch of emails that Citizens United obtained through a lawsuit against the State Department. McClatchy Newspapers first reported on the emails between Fernando and Abedin, who now serves as vice chair of Clinton’s campaign.
Fernando’s tenure on the ISAB came to a swift end after he attended a July 2011 meeting. ABC News began inquiring about an appointment given to a big-time Democratic donor who had no experience in international security issues. Fernando tendered his resignation, claiming that he had to devote time to business in Europe.
In his September 2009 email with Abedin, Fernando relayed details of a conversation he had with Ellen Tauscher, a former congresswoman who then served undersecretary of state for Arms Control and International Security Affairs.
Tauscher said that 25 people were being considered for open spots on the ISAB, whose members included former lawmakers, generals and defense experts.
“They will have their list and Hillary will have hers and at the end of the day as long as they don’t have opposition to any of Hillary’s people, they should get in,” Fernando wrote.
Fernando also sought to assure Abedin that he would be a valuable asset to Clinton.
“I know I will be able to hold my own and be valued contributor to this board,” he wrote. “I promise I will make the Secretary look good.”
He also acknowledged his lack of experience in the field of international security and nonproliferation. But he said that he was studying under two professors to get up to speed on the topics.
“Everybody on that board is a top level defense expert, yet, I feel like I can add a lot to the group,” he wrote Abedin, who now serves as vice chair of Clinton’s campaign. “I have two professors from Northwestern and one from University of Chicago who are international security experts and are getting me up to speed on the academics behind the field.”
Fernando’s appointment to the board was met with skepticism throughout the State Department. And at least one member of Clinton’s inner circle — her communications strategist, Philippe Reines — mocked the choice.
In one 2012 email to Abedin and Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills, Reines wrote that Fernando should “have landed a spot on the President’s Physical Fitness Council” rather than the ISAB.
Other emails obtained by Citizens United earlier this month show that State Department staffers questioned Fernando’s experience for the position. Nevertheless, his application for a “Top Secret” security clearance was fast-tracked so that he could attend a July 2011 board meeting.