Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s closest aide is starting to look like a liability on the campaign trail for the Democratic presidential front-runner.
Huma Abedin, who has been at Mrs. Clinton’s side as her personal assistant — or “body woman” — since the 2008 presidential race, has come under scrutiny for pocketing a $33,000 payout from the State Department for unused leave and using her simultaneous employment inside and outside of government to “deliver favors” to Clinton cronies.
Ms. Abedin also popped up in the email scandal that has dogged Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.
A federal judge last week ordered her and another top Clinton aide at the State Department, Cheryl Mills, to attest, under penalty of perjury, that they had turned over all official email in their possession.
The order followed a revelation that Ms. Abedin and Ms. Mills used a private email account for official business, just like their boss, whose secretive email setup with private accounts hosted on a server in Mrs. Clinton’s home in New York has raised questions about her skirting open-records laws and mishandling classified information.
Ms. Abedin, 39, holds the title of vice chairwoman for the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign, but she continues to serve as Mrs. Clinton’s “girl Friday.” She was captured on surveillance video alongside Mrs. Clinton when the former first lady, senator and top diplomat went unnoticed ordering a burrito bowl at a Chipotle restaurant in Ohio on the first road trip for the campaign.
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Their close relationship is reflected in Mrs. Clinton’s emails that the State Department has released in accordance with a court order. Of the 3,577 emails released so far, Ms. Abedin was mentioned or involved in 1,538 messages, more than 40 percent of the correspondence.
About 660 of the emails, or 18 percent, were messages directly from Ms. Abedin to Mrs. Clinton.
Most voters probably don’t know Ms. Abenin’s name, but she still can cause headaches for Mrs. Clinton.
“Nobody but political insiders will ever even know Huma Abedin’s name. But she’s another building block in the image of Clinton being conveyed to voters,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“More and more, the current Clinton campaign is starting to remind me of the Clintons in the 1990s,” he said. “At times, their controversies came in waves and filled news pages. It’s happening all over again for Hillary in this campaign.”
The Clinton campaign refused to comment on the increased focus on Ms. Abedin.
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For some, Ms. Abedin could rekindle memories of the sex scandals that engulfed the Clintons and remind voters how Mrs. Clinton aggressively defended her husband from accusations of extramarital affairs on the campaign trail and in the White House.
Ms. Abedin played a similar supporting role in a sexting scandal that ultimately forced her husband, Anthony Weiner, to resign from Congress in 2011. Mr. Wiener, a New York Democrat, was caught sending photos of his bulging underwear to women he encountered online.
Mr. Weiner later attempted to resurrect his political career with a run for New York mayor, but he was caught sexting again. When Ms. Abedin continued to stand by him, she encountered fierce criticism and comparisons to her mentor, Mrs. Clinton.
All that pales in comparison with accusations that Ms. Abedin played fast and loose with the work rules at the State Department.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has led an investigation since 2013 into Ms. Abedin’s employment arrangement at the State Department, where she was designated as a special government employee so she could also work for the Clinton Foundation and Teneo, a consulting firm run by Douglas Band, a longtime aide to former President Bill Clinton.
In a July 30 letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Mr. Grassley said a probe by the agency’s independent inspector general had found “reasonable suspicion” that Ms. Abedin committed theft of public and attendance fraud by collecting $33,000 for unusual leave.
Ms. Abedin’s attorney, Karen L. Dunn, called the inspector general’s report “fundamentally flawed.”
“Huma Abedin is widely known as one of the hardest working and most dedicated public servants over the nearly two decades she served,” she said in a statement.
“The Inspector General’s report is fundamentally flawed, including contradicting its own conclusion by finding that Huma — a woman who regularly worked 16-20 hour days — also worked hard while on maternity leave,” she said. “No hardworking, dedicated public servant should be subjected to such irresponsible allegations based on a fundamentally flawed report — and it is appropriate that the State Department is now reviewing the IG’s report. Huma has been nothing but cooperative in helping the Department work through its record keeping issues, and she will continue to do so in the hope the right thing is done.”
Mr. Grassley also said the auditor’s finding found evidence that Ms. Abedin’s overlapping employment inside and outside government created conflicts of interest and special treatment for people with connections to Teneo and the Clinton Foundation.
Ms. Dunn disputed Mr. Gassley’s interpretation of the inspector general’s findings.
“There is no criminal investigation, and there never has been. To say otherwise is patently false and grossly irresponsible,” she said.
The inspector general did not respond to inquiries about the report.
Still, Ms. Abedin’s intertwined work relationships were evidenced by the approximately 7,300 emails that Ms. Abedin reportedly sent or received on her government email account involving Mr. Band, Mr. Grassley said.
In one email exchange, Mr. Band emailed Ms. Abedin, according to the senator, to request that she reach out to Mrs. Clinton to encourage President Obama to appoint Judith Rodin to a White House position.
At the time, Mrs. Rodin was a client of Teneo and president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation — a fact Mr. Band reportedly noted in his email to Ms. Abedin, according to Mr. Grassley.
“Ms. Abedin allegedly forwarded this email from her official email to her nongovernment email address located on Secretary Clinton’s non-government server,” Mr. Grassley wrote. “This is but one of several troubling allegations of Ms. Abedin being solicited for and delivering favors for preferred individuals.”