It’s good to see The New York Times finally catching up to a story I first detailed in this column two months ago.
In March, I wrote two consecutive columns which raised serious questions about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s relationship with her longtime confidante and political bruiser, Sidney Blumenthal.
The first column asked, “Was Hillary Clinton running her own rogue intelligence operation?” It suggested that while secretary, Mrs. Clinton may have been given highly sensitive national security information by Mr. Blumenthal. Recall that President Obama pointedly denied Mrs. Clinton’s request to appoint him to a special, official role in her State Department. It now appears that Mrs. Clinton ignored Mr. Obama’s order and installed Mr. Blumenthal as a shadowy, non-official adviser.
In 2013, the hacker Guccifer breached Mr. Blumenthal’s email account, revealing what Guccifer claimed was a series of emails from Mr. Blumenthal to one of Mrs. Clinton’s private email accounts. They concerned global hot spots, including Libya the day after the Benghazi attack, and many of them are dated 2011 and 2012, while she was still secretary.
I posed some of the following questions: “Was the real reason Mrs. Clinton created a private communications system because she planned to run her own intelligence operation via Mr. Blumenthal, away from the prying eyes of the president, his White House, the intelligence and diplomatic communities, Congress, the press and the American people?
“If Mr. Blumenthal were, in fact, overseeing this operation, how was he compensated? By Mrs. Clinton privately, by the Clinton Foundation, or by some other murky source?
“Did Mrs. Clinton turn over the Blumenthal emails to the State Department, or were they among the deleted?
“Is Mr. Blumenthal on anyone’s subpoena list?”
Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the Benghazi Select Committee, agrees that Mr. Blumenthal has some explaining to do and has now subpoenaed him.
In my subsequent column, I raised another series of questions based on the mysterious relationship between a former top CIA disinformation expert, Tyler Drumheller, and Mr. Blumenthal and Mrs. Clinton, including:
“Did Mr. Blumenthal then team up with Mr. Drumheller to create their own intelligence-gathering operation?
“If such a partnership exists, was Mrs. Clinton a client? With what countries and sources did they deal? Given Mr. Drumheller’s sketchy reputation, was he properly vetted? Was the intelligence being passed to her — if any was being passed — reliable? Or might she have been a victim of disinformation, perhaps on Benghazi and other matters? If he did pass intelligence to her, did she then share it with the CIA and others?
“If this rogue operation were in effect, was it on Mrs. Clinton’s orders? Or perhaps was it at Mr. Obama’s behest, to get them both maximum intelligence they could not get through standard channels? The involvement of Mr. Blumenthal might make that unlikely, but no one really knows.
“If this shadowy operation did exist, did the White House know? What about the State Department, CIA, NSA and others? Did Mrs. Clinton clear it legally?
“Did Mr. Blumenthal ever get a security clearance?
“If Mrs. Clinton had an off-the-books arrangement with Messrs. Blumenthal and Drumheller we have a right to know what it was, what purpose it served, at whose behest, how it guided her as secretary, and what, if any, payments were made to the parties involved.”
The New York Times finally took these questions seriously, and published a story this week answering some of them. We now know that Mrs. Clinton forwarded Mr. Blumenthal’s intelligence memos to senior diplomatic officials “even after other senior diplomats concluded that [his] assessments were often unreliable.” Yet Mrs. Clinton continued to circulate them, often with notes such as “Useful insight” or “We should get around this ASAP.”
On the compensation question I raised, it’s reported that Mr. Blumenthal was, in fact, paid by the Clinton Foundation — for what it called “research” and “message guidance.” While he was feeding Mrs. Clinton this often dubious intelligence, Mr. Blumenthal was also pursuing business interests in Libya, some of which would have required State Department approval had they moved forward. Some of the Libyan business contacts sought meetings with Mrs. Clinton in early 2012.
And as for the cryptic Mr. Drumheller, The New York Times reported that he and Mr. Blumenthal were “advisers” to a company seeking “business opportunities” in post-Gadhafi Libya.
The use of backchannels is not unusual for officials looking for other sources of information. But given Mrs. Clinton’s use of this particular backchannel, one of the concerns I raised was whether Mr. Blumenthal and the intelligence he passed along were properly vetted. In its reporting, the newspaper says his “dispatches went beyond that sort of informal channel” without providing proper “assessments of the motives of sources.”
When asked this week about her relationship with Mr. Blumenthal, she breezily described him as a longtime “friend.” But she knows that her “friendship” with him isn’t the issue. The issue is whether Mrs. Clinton’s use of this Blumenthal-coordinated secret intel operation jeopardized national security. And whether and to what extent Mr. Obama knew about it.
These are just a few of the remaining unanswered questions.
If she did not circumvent the president, intelligence and diplomatic agencies, and the law, then she should have no problem disclosing everything.
Her continuing evasiveness speaks volumes.
Even The New York Times can see that.
• Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.