- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2013

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.

Now 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.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Benghazi Attack Under Microscope

The memo, 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.

At 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.”

A 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.”

Simmering 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.

She 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.

More 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.

During testimony 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.

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