Congress Threatens to Compel Testimony of Ex-@StateDept Career Employee Over HRC’s Email Server

Posted: 3:34 am EDT
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We have not heard this name publicly cited before, but Politico is reporting that John Bentel, a 39 veteran of the State Department has now been snared in the Clinton email server saga. Politico says that according to a letter it obtained, Mr. Bentel has declined to be interviewed by GOP staff on the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees. The chairmen of both committees, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), are reportedly “threatening to consider other ways to compel” Mr.  Bentel to discuss the matter.  Excerpt:

A State Department staffer who oversaw security and technology issues for Hillary Clinton is refusing to answer Senate investigators’ questions about the former secretary of state’s use of a private email server — marking the second time an ex-State employee has declined to talk to lawmakers.

John Bentel, a now retired State employee who managed IT security issues for the top echelon at the department, declined to be interviewed by GOP staff on the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, according to a letter obtained by Politico.
[…]
The chairmen of both committees, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), are now threatening to consider other ways to compel him to discuss the matter.

“We are troubled by your refusal to engage with the committees even after repeated overtures of accommodation,” the letter to Bentel and his lawyer reads. “We need to speak with you. … We would, of course, prefer that you meet with us in a voluntary and informal manner, but we will consider other options if faced with a continuing lack of cooperation.”
[…]
On Dec. 4, 2015, Judiciary and Homeland investigators reached out to Bentel’s lawyer to schedule an interview. But Turk told them Bentel had already been asked about the matter when he sat before the House Benghazi Committee. Turk said Bentel told the committee he had “no memory of knowledge” of the server issue and there was “little point” in telling another committee the same thing, according to the letter.

But both Senate panels say Bentel may have been aware of the sever, noting that their investigators have been told that some of Bentel’s subordinates knew about the home setup: “It appears that you were an integral figure in the operations of the Executive Secretariat and that you would have particular and unique knowledge relevant to the committees’ inquiry. Indeed, Department personal have noted that your subordinates in the Executive Secretariat’s office, who reported directly to you, had knowledge of Secretary Clinton’s private email server, which leads one to conclude that you were likely made aware of the server.”

Read more:

There does not seem to be an end in sight for these investigations. Certainly not in 2016.  This is a potential conundrum for folks even in the periphery of the former secretary’s orbit.  One can show up to these interviews and become a story, or one can refused to show up for these interviews and still become a story. Beyond becoming the news of the day, click here for what happens if one refuses to testify.

The law firm, MayerBrown says that Congress can compel the production of documents and sworn testimony from almost anyone at almost any time.  It has a good primer (PDF) on the Congress’s investigative authority and subpoena power:

“Although there is no legal obligation that a party comply with such a request, it is typically in the responding party’s best interest to do so, except where privileged or other sensitive information is involved [snip]. These informal requests present an important first opportunity for the responding party to shape the views and perceptions of the committee staff. Congressional staff members are required to work on a wide range of issues. They will rely heavily on a responding party whom they view as trustworthy to educate them on the issues under investigation. In addition, cooperating with an initial request allows the responding party to demonstrate that it is compliant and respectful, favorably influencing the staff and potentially mitigating the risk that members will publicly attack the responding party for noncooperation.”

Even if there is no immediate possibility of getting snared in these investigations, it’s probably a good reminder to review one’s private Professional Liability Insurance coverage. PLI may not just offer coverage on administrative and disciplinary matters, but also congressional, OIG investigations and civil suits. Outside these controversies, there is one very good reason for a PLI.  The Kent Case demonstrates that while FSOs are considered on duty 24/7, the 24/7 rule “. . . only defines the FSO’s duty to the state–not the states duty to the FSO.”  The case is Kashin v Kent dating back to 1998, decided by the Appeals Court in August 2006, and we think, it’s a must read case for FS employees.

Note that State Department regulations allow the reimbursement of up to 50%, or $175, whichever is less of the PLI cost for eligible covered employees (see 3 FAM 3840 – pdf). Membership with AFSA also affords one legal services when needed.  Check with AFSA. Also check with HR for guidance on PLI coverage.

 

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It Took Awhile But Here It Is — Going After @StateDept OIG Steve Linick With Fake Sleeper Cells

Posted: 2:24 pm EDT
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Politico reported on January 25 about the State Dept. watchdog tied to earlier Clinton probe.   Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), described by Politico as a Clinton ally questioned the impartiality of the State Department IG’s office. He was specifically targeting OIG Steve Linick’s senior advisor, David Seide, who according to Representative Israel: “You have a guy who used his former position to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into Mrs. Clinton that amounted to nothing, who then continues that work in the State Department. That has fingerprints on it that are just too visible and just lead to all sorts of questions.”

Excerpt below from Politico:

A lawyer overseeing investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email practices has a history of tangling with the former first lady’s political operation: He was a federal prosecutor involved in a probe that led, a decade ago, to the unsuccessful prosecution of a top Clinton fundraising aide.

David Seide — now the acting senior adviser to the State Department inspector general — gathered evidence that surfaced in the case against David Rosen, the national finance director of Clinton’s 2000 Senate bid.
[…]
While Rosen’s trial was a stinging defeat for the government, after Rosen’s acquittal, the committee that arranged the 2000 gala paid a $35,000 civil penalty to the Federal Election Commission and agreed to amend the relevant campaign finance reports to acknowledge more than $721,000 in unreported spending. Such large in-kind donations to a campaign-linked fundraiser were legal at the time, but they were made illegal by the so-called soft-money ban in the McCain-Feingold law passed in 2002.
[…]
Seide appears to have close ties to State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and to DiSanto. When Linick gave up his position as IG at the Federal Housing Finance Agency to join State in 2013, Seide and DiSanto followed him to the new agency.

However, Seide’s résumé doesn’t suggest an anti-Clinton vendetta. After leaving government, he spent a year as an in-house counsel at Morgan Stanley before joining Wilmer Hale, a Washington law firm that has employed many prominent Democrats and former Clinton administration officials.

In 2002, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better known as McCain-Feingold. The legislation made changes to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to limit the use of “soft money.”

Representative Steve Israel voted in favor of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.  So he was for McCain-Feingold before he was against McCain-Feingold?  Here’s the funny thing.  According to Politico, Doug Welty, the State OIG spox said that Mr. Seide was involved in the prosecution of a case in which a Clinton donor was charged with stock fraud, but not the Rosen case.

Chill out! Those prosecutors, they all look the same, hey?

In November last year, senior Democrats also alleged a “fishy connection” between the release of Huma Abedin-related  information and Senator Grassley’s former top investigator, Emilia DiSanto, who is now the deputy inspector general at the State Department. The NYT notes that “Ms. DiSanto worked for Mr. Grassley for years; she joined the inspector general’s office in late 2013, around the time the inquiry into Ms. Abedin began.”

Ms. DiSanto, in an email, responded angrily to questions about whether there was a connection between her and the information that Mr. Grassley had received.

“Any claim that I have communicated with Senator Grassley about State Department nominations is an outright lie,” she wrote. “There is nothing ‘fishy’ about the fact that I once worked for Senator Grassley about five years ago. Indeed, it is quite common for employees of the legislative branch to join the executive branch to continue their public service.”

Senator Grassley’s inquiry originally started with the Special Government Employee (SGE) arrangement involving Human Abedin in August 2013 (see The Other Benghazi Four: Lengthy Administrative Circus Ended Today; Another Circus Heats Up). Senator Grassley said in his letter to Secretary Kerry that he made inquiries on June 13, 2013 and August 15, 2013 regarding the State Department’s use of Special Government Employee (SGE). We’re not complaining, by the way, that Senator Grassley is looking into this issue. We’d like to know how other State Department employees can get permission to hold three other jobs concurrent with their federal jobs.  Some friends have mortgages, others have kids in college, car payments, student debts, etc…. so an additional job or two would be really helpful.

In any case, Emilia DiSanto was appointed Acting Deputy IG on October 1, 2013 to succeeded Harold Geisel, the Deputy IG who served as OIG boss for the last five years while the State Department did not have a Senate-confirmed Inspector General.  Ms. DiSanto was with the Federal Housing Finance Agency-Inspector General’s Office for two years prior to her move to the State Department.

In 2004, during her work at the Senate Finance Committee, Ms. DiSanto reportedly met with Food and Drug Administration whistleblowers about their concerns that widely used antidepressants were linked to suicidal behavior among teens. According to the WSJ, the scientists told Ms. DiSanto that they believed the agency and companies were ignoring or suppressing that information. Shortly thereafter the senator held the first major congressional hearing on a drug safety issue in years.  They later turned their attention to “medical devices, specialty hospitals, the antibiotic Ketek, ghostwritten medical papers, the FDA’s criminal division, its drug division, its veterinary division and, most notably, the diabetes drug Avandia.” See more here (PDF).

In late 2005, she survived an attack by a man who repeatedly struck her with with an unidentified object believed to be a baseball bat. Reports say no evidence points to DiSanto’s work on the Finance Committee as the cause for the attack, but sources say there are a number of clues that suggest it could be since the assailant “was trying to hide his identity, wearing a hood and black gloves. He also did not make any demands before attacking the 49-year-old staffer. A working assumption among investigators is that he was waiting for her to arrive home.” She reportedly returned to work a week after her attack, and continued to work at the Senate until 2011 when she left and moved to FHFA/OIG.

David Seide was appointed Counselor to the Inspector General on October 18, 2013.  Previously, he served for almost three years as Director of Special Projects in the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Federal Housing Finance Agency.  His title was later changed to Acting Senior Adviser to the Inspector General at the State Department.

Both Ms. DiSanto and Mr. Seide worked with Mr. Linick when he was inspector general at Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). We should note that they worked with the RMBS Working Group and the New York Attorney General’s Office in support of the investigation and prosecution of RMBS fraud cases. In November 2013, when all three have already moved to the State Department, their old office, FHFA/OIG with the Justice Department and other state and federal entities secured a record $13 billion global settlement with JPMorgan for misleading investors about securities containing toxic mortgages.  They did the jobs they were supposed to do there.

Now they’re doing the jobs they’re supposed to be doing at the State Department.

And some politician is trying to convinced us that they are at fault for doing their jobs by peddling “all sorts of questions” and citing  “fingerprints.”

Mr. Seide is one of the two team leaders and 10 OIG staffers who looked into the Department of State’s FOIA Processes for Requests Involving the Office of the Secretary (PDF).  Is the good congressman from New York also digging up the backgrounds of the 10 OIG staffers involved in that project? That is, by the way, a distressing report to read but nobody asked how come no one had ever done this review before? What happened to the OIG during the Clinton tenure? What’s that? There was no Senate confirmed IG during that entire tenure?

Too bad, there was no IG with major brass balls before now to look under the rugs.

We do think that the real target of these allegations of bias is Mr. Linick. Because, hey … if his closest aides are political sleeper cells, who somehow manage to lay low in the bureaucracy and a decade later they turned the screws at their first opportunities, then by golly, he must be, too!  And if you can smear the messengers badly enough, then, of course, all those reports his office issued and will issue in the future can simply be ignored or dismissed as partisan.

This is predictable babble and the good congressman from New York and friends must now find a vomitorium so they can throw up all this crap.

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Senator Grassley Explains Hold on Thomas Shannon’s Nomination to be @StateDept’s #4

Posted: 2:21 am EDT
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Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has placed a hold on the nomination of Ambassador Thomas Shannon as Foggy Bottom’s next “P.” Below is an excerpt in the Congressional Record with Mr. Grassley explaining his hold (see Senator Grassley Lifts Hold on 20 Foreign Service Nominations, Places New Hold on “P”). He stated that he is not questioning the credentials of Ambassador Shannon in any way; just pushing the State Department to “respond to congressional inquiries in a timely and reasonable manner.”

Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I intend to object to any unanimous  consent request at the present time relating to the nomination of  Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., of Virginia, a career member of the Senior  Foreign Service, class of Career Ambassador, to be an Under Secretary of State, Political Affairs.

I will object because the Department of State has still not responded  to almost a dozen investigative letters dating back to 2013. In  addition, on August 20, 2015, my staff met with Department officials in  an effort to prioritize material for production. The Department has failed to comply with its commitments, producing material late, failing  to provide all requested material, and even failing to provide material to the Senate Judiciary Committee contemporaneously with providing the same documents to Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, requestors. These are the same complaints that I raised on September 30, 2015, when I placed a hold on Brian James Egan of Maryland to be legal advisor of the Department of State. Apparently, the Department simply does not understand its obligation to respond to congressional inquiries in a timely and reasonable manner.

Two and a half years ago I began a broad inquiry into the government’s use of special government employee programs. I did not single out the State Department on this issue. To the contrary, I wrote to 16 different government agencies. Two and a half years have passed since I began my inquiry, and the State Department has still not produced the materials I have requested or certified they do not exist.

 In addition to the investigation of the Department’s special government employee program, I am also investigating the Department’s  compliance with the FOIA as it pertains to Secretary Clinton’s private server that was used to transit and store government information. The Minority Leader has questioned whether the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction extends to these matters. I would note that the special government employee designation is an exception to Federal criminal conflict-of-interest laws. Those laws are within the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee, as is FOIA.
[…]
As a further example of the Department’s continued intransigence, I requested all SF-312 “Classified Non-Disclosure Agreements” for Secretary Clinton, Ms. Huma Abedin, and Ms. Cheryl Mills on August 5, 2015. My staff met with Department personnel three times since that letter and participated in dozens of emails and phone calls in an effort to acquire these documents. In addition, after the Department complained that it had received too many requests from me, my staff produced a prioritized list of requests to assist the Department in producing responses. At number three on that list were the SF-312 forms, and at number one are the official emails of Mr. Pagliano. Notably, during conversations with my staff on the subject, Department personnel stated that they could not locate those forms with the exception of only page 2 of Ms. Abedin’s SF-312 exit form. On November 5, 2015, the Department produced SF-312 entrance forms for Secretary Clinton, Ms. Abedin, and Ms. Mills to a FOIA requestor but failed to provide the same to the Committee. Clearly, the documents exist.
[…]
The continued intransigence and lack of cooperation make it clear that the Department did not care enough about their Foreign Service  officer candidates to “get in gear” and begin to produce responses to  my oversight letters. Accordingly, I have released my hold on these officer candidates and have escalated to Mr. Shannon. The Department of State’s refusal to fully cooperate with my  investigations is unacceptable. As I have noted before on the floor of the Senate, the Department continues to promise results, but there has been very little or no follow-through. The Department’s good faith will be measured in documents delivered and witnesses provided.

My objection is not intended to question the credentials of Mr. Shannon in any way. However, the Department must recognize that it has an ongoing obligation to respond to congressional inquiries in a timely and reasonable manner.

Read the full entry in the Congressional Record here.

 

 

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Senators Grassley and Cotton Now Have 25 @StateDept Nominations Glued Down, and Going Nowhere

Posted: 2:58 am EDT
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In early August, Senator Chuck Grassley  (R-IA) placed a hold on the nomination of David Malcolm Robinson, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who was nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the floundering Conflict and Stabilization Operations bureau. He also placed a hold on 20 Foreign Service mid-level nominees, something we don’t often see (see Senate Judiciary Sets Sight on Allegations Over Huma Abedin’s State Dept Employment, Senate Hold OnSenator Grassley Places Hold on 20 FSO Nominations Over Clinton Inquiry).

On September 30, Senator Grassley added a hold on the nomination of Brian Egan, the nominee for Legal Adviser at the State Department. The previously confirmed Legal Adviser was Harold Hongju Koh who left the State Department in early 2013. Mr. Egan has now waited at least 636 days for his senate confirmation.

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On October 5,  Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) added to the confirmation logjam by placing a hold on three ambassadorial nominees, apparently until “the administration shows it is taking steps to punish Secret Service staff involved in leaking unflattering information about a lawmaker.” According to WaPo, Cotton also said he will consider blocking more nominees if the administration refuses to fully investigate and discipline the Secret Service staff.

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You might wonder what do these ambassadorial nominations have to do with the Secret Service? Why, nothing at all.  The Secret Service is under the Department of Homeland Security and the subject of the Cotton hold are nominees for the State Department.  That distinction hardly matters in today’s Washington, D.C.. Remember in July last year when Senator Cruz deployed a blanket hold over the FAA’s prohibition of U.S. airlines flying to or from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport? (See The Fault in Our Skies: Senator to Deploy Blanket Senate Hold Over DOS Nominees Cuz FAA). Right.  The Cotton hold are on three political appointees who have been waiting for senate confirmation between 141 days to 836 days.

There apparently is also a secret hold for the USAID administrator nominee but no one has officially filed a notice of his/her intent to object to the Gayle Smith’s nomination. Devex reported back in July that her nomination has hit a snag. Below is a list of nominees who are subject to a hold.

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Here is an updated list of nominees waiting for a full Senate vote as of October 1, 2015:

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