Senator Chuck Grassley has sent two letters to the State Department to ask about Huma Abedin's special government status when she was a government employee--and for information on Abedin's email use while working for the government. Abedin is a close aide to Hillary Clinton, and worked for the consulting firm Teneo (under a special government employee status) while working for Clinton.
"I am writing to follow up on inquiries I have been making since June 13, 2013 and August 15, 2013 regarding the State Department’s use of Special Government Employee (SGE) designations, and in particular, what steps the Department took to ensure that Ms. Huma Abedin’s outside employment with a political intelligence and corporate advisory firm did not conflict with her simultaneous employment at the State Department. I thank the Department for its responses to my inquiries made June 13, 2013 and August 15, 2013. However, to date, the Department’s answers have been largely unresponsive," writes Grassley to Secretary of State John Kerry.
By way of example, I have still not received the records relating to communications between the State Department and Ms. Abedin’s other employer, Teneo. Nor has the Department provided records of communications between the State Department and any clients or entities represented by Teneo. The Department has also failed to provide any email communications between Ms. Abedin and Teneo or Teneo’s clients. The State Department’s November 14, 2014 response to my inquiries, stated, “Based on an internal review, the Department has never had any contracts with Teneo.” But that is not responsive to my request, and it does not mean that communications between full-time Department employees, or SGEs, and Teneo, or clients of Teneo, do not exist.
A number of conflict of interest concerns arise when a government employee is simultaneously being paid by a private company, especially when that company, Teneo, “brings together the disciplines of government and public affairs.” Moreover, these concerns are heightened when high level employees, such as Ms. Abedin, may have used non-government email accounts to engage in both government and private business.
Furthermore, Ms. Abedin and other State Department employees appear to have been improperly categorized as SGEs. The Department’s response dated November 14, 2014 states, “An individual may receive an SGE designation if he or she is joining the Department from the private sector or is coming from another government position.” However, in Ms. Abedin’s case, she neither came from the private sector nor came from another government position. She converted from a full-time employee to become an SGE, with seemingly little difference in her job description or responsibilities. The purpose of the SGE program “…is to help the Government obtain the temporary or intermittent services of persons with special knowledge and skills whose principal employment is outside the Government.” Yet, in essence, she kept the same job but instead of working in Washington, D.C. she worked part-time in New York and was subsequently hired by Teneo and the Clinton Global Initiative. It is unclear what special knowledge or skills Ms. Abedin possessed that the government could not have easily obtained otherwise from regular government employees.
As explained in my letter to Ms. Abedin dated June 13, 2013, the State Department’s current use of the SGE designation blurs the line between public and private sector employees. It is especially troubling when employees receive full-time salaries for what appears to be part-time work. The taxpayer deserves to know why Ms. Abedin was permitted to perform her job in New York when the position had normally been performed in Washington, D.C. and why she was permitted to become an SGE from inside government when normally an SGE would come from outside government. Likewise, the taxpayer has a right to know how many other State Department SGEs were given similarly favorable treatment.
Recent revelations about the record keeping practices at the State Department under Secretary Clinton raise questions as to whether any email communications from Secretary Clinton and Ms. Abedin to Teneo, or Teneo’s clients, were properly preserved. According to Secretary Clinton, she built a private email server in her personal residence and used a private email account on that server. Use of the personal account prevented regular government records retention processes from preserving her work-related emails. Moreover, according to press reports, Ms. Abedin also had an email account on Secretary Clinton’s private server.