A longtime confidante of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton who reportedly played a key role in the State Department’s damage-control efforts on the Benghazi attack last year is also named in accusations that department higher-ups quashed investigations into diplomats’ potential criminal activity.
Cheryl Mills, who served in a dual
capacity in recent years as general counsel and chief of staff to Mrs.
Clinton as secretary of state, was accused of attempting to stifle
congressional access to a diplomat who held a senior post in Libya at
the time of the attack.
she has become the closest member of Mrs. Clinton’s inner circle to
have her name appear in an internal State Department Office of Inspector
General memo at the heart of this week’s scandal.
believed to have been based on anonymous complaints from rank-and-file
agents in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security that
arose during a 2012 inspector general’s review of the bureau, has sent
shock waves through Foggy Bottom since becoming public Monday.
its core, the document outlines a variety of cases in which high-ranking
department officials quashed internal investigations into accusations
of sexual assault, drug dealing, solicitation of sexual favors from
prostitutes and minors, and other improper activity against American
diplomatic personnel overseas.
The State Department has vigorously
criticized the memo. Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters
repeatedly this week that the accusations are “unsubstantiated.”
spokesman for the inspector general’s office has called the memo a
“preliminary” document that triggered investigations into suspected
criminal activity and claims that earlier probes were blocked by State
Department higher-ups. Outside law enforcement specialists have been
called in to conduct the investigations.
With bipartisan pressure
mounting from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to ensure such claims are
investigated and resolved, Secretary of State John F. Kerry weighed in
Wednesday, saying he takes the investigative process “very seriously”
and that “all employees of this department are held to the highest
standards, now and always.”
“I am confident that the [inspector
general’s] process, where he has invited outsiders to come and review
whatever took place a year ago, will be reviewed,” Mr. Kerry told
reporters after meeting at the State Department with British Foreign
Secretary William Hague. “I welcome that, I think the department
welcomes that, because we do want the highest standards applied.”
beneath the surface of the scandal, however, is a political ingredient
that some news reports suggest has to do with Mrs. Clinton’s potential
ambitions to run for president and with Republican hopes to use Benghazi
and other scandals against the former secretary of state.
It follows that the scandals would have to reach not only to anonymous State Department higher-ups, but to Mrs. Clinton herself.
That’s where Mrs. Mills comes in.
has worked as a Clinton loyalist for more than two decades, first as a
lawyer who helped facilitate Mr. Clinton’s transition into the White
House after the 1992 election. She was named White House counsel in the
Clinton administration and became a key litigator and public face of the
defense team during his 1999 impeachment and trial on perjury and
obstruction of justice charges related to a sexual-harassment lawsuit.
recently, working in Mrs. Clinton’s inner circle at the State
Department, Mrs. Mills made headlines in the aftermath of the Benghazi
attack for the pressure she reportedly put on Gregory Hicks, the former
deputy chief of mission to Libya, to be careful in his dealings with
Republican members of the House Oversight and Government Reform
Committee seeking answers about the attack.
before the committee in May, Mr. Hicks revealed that he got an
aggressive phone call from Mrs. Mills after meeting with Rep. Jason
Chaffetz, Utah Republican, who had traveled to Libya on a fact-finding
mission about a month after the attack that killed Ambassador J.
Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Mr. Hicks testified
that other higher-ups at the department ordered him not to meet with
Mr. Chaffetz during the visit, but he ignored them. At one point, he met
with the congressman without a State Department attorney present
because the lawyer did not have a high enough security clearance to
attend the meeting. Afterward, the call came from Mrs. Mills, demanding
“a report on the visit,” said Mr. Hicks, who added that Mrs. Mills “was
upset” by the attorney’s absence.
Mr. Hicks suggested that the
call was serious because it had come from an official so high in the
State Department and so close to Mrs. Clinton. “A phone call from that
senior of a person is, generally speaking, not considered to be good
news,” he said.
The call may simply show how seriously Mrs.
Clinton’s uppermost staff members took the task of ensuring that
officials like Mr. Hicks had the necessary legal protections as the
Benghazi scandal unfolded.
But the attention given to Mrs. Mills —
along with Mr. Hicks’ comments about her call during a congressional
hearing on Benghazi — has made the appearance of her name in the more
recent internal OIG memo scandal all the more pertinent.
the memo, Mrs. Mills may have similarly attempted to block an
investigation last year into suspected misconduct by Brett McGurk, whom
President Obama had nominated to become ambassador to Iraq.
memo outlines how agents from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s
special investigations division had opened an probe into Mr. McGurk, who
was working at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad at the time, on suspicion
that had been improperly emailing government information with his
girlfriend, a Wall Street Journal reporter.
“Some of the
information may have been cleared for release, but other information
reportedly was not,” states the memo, a copy of which was obtained by
The Washington Times after it was first reported by CBS News.
“never interviewed McGurk, allegedly because Cheryl Mills from the
Secretary’s office interceded,” the memo states. “Email from Mills
reportedly shows her agreeing to a particular course of action for the
case, but then reneging and advising McGurk to withdraw his name from
consideration for the ambassadorship.”
Mr. McGurk withdrew his name from consideration for the post last June.
case is just one of eight outlined in the memo and appears to rank low
in terms of the level of potential criminal behavior that was alleged.
Department officials remained vague this week about details of any of
the cases and refused to say whether any of them have been resolved
during the inspector general’s ongoing investigations.
case, the memo states that an agent from the special investigations
division had opened a probe into the activities of Howard Gutman, the
U.S. ambassador to Belgium, and “determined that the ambassador
routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit
sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.”
ambassador’s protective detail and the embassy’s surveillance detection
team (staffed by host country nationals) were well aware of the
behavior,” the memo states.
But as the agent “began to plan
surveillance on the ambassador to obtain corroboration, the agent
reportedly received notification that [Undersecretary of State for
Management Patrick] Kennedy had directed [the Bureau of Diplomatic
Security] to cease the investigation and have the agent return to
Mr. Kennedy issued a statement Tuesday saying he has
“never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any
Mr. Gutman also issued a statement Tuesday, saying
he was “angered and saddened” by “baseless allegations that have
appeared in the press.”
“To watch the four years I have proudly
served in Belgium smeared is devastating,” he said. “I live on a
beautiful park in Brussels that you walk through to get to many
locations, and at no point have I ever engaged in any improper
The ambassador’s denial appeared to represent the first
official acknowledgment of the various accusations of criminal activity
cited in the inspector general’s memo.