Hillary Clinton’s former chief of staff at the State Department had a Democratic donor with virtually no relevant experience appointed to a nuclear intelligence advisory board, according to a new report that also claims the aide tried to stall journalists examining his background.
ABC News reported that copies of internal emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicate Rajiv K. Fernando had thin qualifications for a seat on the board, other than his close connection to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Fernando, a Chicago securities trader, had been a fundraiser for Democratic candidates and a financial contributor to the Clinton Foundation and even traveled with Bill Clinton on a trip to Africa. The board he was appointed to – the International Security Advisory Board – included nuclear scientists, members of Congress and former cabinet secretaries.
The board is a governmental body, overseen by the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, that advises the department on arms control and related issues. According to the group’s charter, members who are not full-time government employees “may receive compensation for the time served at the rate of GS-15 step 10, plus transportation and per diem for overnight travel.” That indicates the highest level of pay for typical federal government employees.
However, a Clinton spokesman said it was unpaid and defended his qualifications.
In a statement, spokesman Nick Merrill said, “This was an unpaid, volunteer advisory board, and one of several foreign policy-focused organizations that he was involved with. As the State Department itself has said, the ISAB charter calls for a diverse set of experiences for its members. That's all there is to it."
The emails reportedly show that Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, pushed for Fernando.
A top official in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security explained to a press aide, “The true answer is simply that S staff (Cheryl Mills) added him. ... Raj was not on the list sent to S; he was added at their insistence.”
"S" apparently refers to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News on Friday the suggestion Clinton got Fernando onto a board that advised on the use of nuclear weapons is “even more significant” than reports her private emails had details on drone strikes.
“He was appointed to the group, which has some of the most sensitive secrets because it looks at Pakistan, North Korea, Russia,” Gingrich said. “It is very clear that this was just pure corruption. This was cash for a seat on a board. “
At the time, Fernando’s appointment seemed to confuse some staffers, according to emails.
“We had no idea who he was,” one board member told ABC News.
The news organization first contacted the State Department in August 2011 and asked for a copy of Fernando’s resume.
Subsequent emails show officials trying to slow-walk the process.
One press aide wrote that “it appears there is much more to this story that we’re unaware of.”
“We must protect the Secretary's and Under Secretary's name, as well as the integrity of the Board. I think it's important to get down to the bottom of this before there's any response … As you can see from the attached, it's natural to ask how he got onto the board when compared to the rest of the esteemed list of members," press aide Jamie Mannina wrote.
According to the emails, Mannina was instructed by Mills to stall with ABC News. When Mannina did get back several days after the initial inquiry, it was only to say Fernando had resigned.
“Mr. Fernando chose to resign from the Board earlier this month citing additional time needed to devote to his business,” Mannina wrote. Fernando was working at the time at the firm he founded and later sold, Chopper Trading.
Fernando, an early supporter of Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, maxed out the number of contributions he could give to her campaign and to HillPAC in 2007-2008.
He also helped raise more than $100,000 for her and ended up giving the William J. Clinton Foundation $250,000 and $30,000 to advocacy group WomenCount, which helped Clinton with her 2008 campaign.