Why are we still talking about a revolving door at the White House?
After promising “change” in America, President Obama officially shut the revolving door on Jan. 21, 2009, in his very first executive order.
“Every appointee in every executive agency” was asked to sign this “ethics pledge,” which would make them “contractually committed … [a]s a condition, and in consideration, of [their] employment in the United States Government in a position invested with the public trust.” Commitment to the “obligations” was “binding” and “enforceable under law.”
While most of Mr. Obama’s executive order was devoted to curbing lobbying, there was also a “revolving door ban,” which affected “all appointees entering government.”
“I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts,” all appointees entering government were asked to vow.
After serving as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, longtime aide Huma Abedin was quietly appointed as a “special government employee” on June 3, 2012. However, according to an email that conservative watchdog Judicial Watch recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Action lawsuit against the State Department, the very next day Ms. Abedin claimed that her “new position” would be “identical to [her] old position,” even though that appears to be in violation of special government employee requirements.
Along with continuing to help and arrange Mrs. Clinton’s travel schedule at the State Department, Ms. Abedin also began working for the Clinton Foundation, a consulting firm called Teneo — co-founded by former President Bill Clinton’s “body man” and two Hillary Clinton fundraisers, one of whom, Declan Kelly, she had appointed as the economic envoy to Northern Ireland — and the former first lady herself on a personal basis.
As I reported in March, and recently released emails confirmed, Ms. Abedin helped schedule a dinner with Irish-American fundraisers for Mrs. Clinton on her last foreign trip as secretary of state, which included Teneo CEO Declan Kelly and top Clinton Foundation donor Denis O’Brien, a billionaire who is friends with Mr. Clinton. In her December 2012 trip to Ireland, Mrs. Clinton also was honored at a luncheon by the Ireland Funds, a Clinton Foundation donor. Mr. Kelly was on the board of the American Ireland Fund and his firm handled press for the Belfast luncheon.
Ms. Abedin’s multiple jobs all seem to conflict with the “ethics pledge” that “all appointees entering government” were required to sign by Mr. Obama, but no journalists or even Republicans — as far as I know — have mentioned this as an issue at all, even though the special government employee appointment has turned into a major controversy and Ms. Abedin’s four hats may have affected Mrs. Clinton’s polling numbers, since Huma is vice chairwoman of her 2016 campaign for president.
Perhaps because it’s just business as usual in American politics.
But it matters. Or it should matter.
Teneo Holdings is rapidly becoming an extremely powerful consulting firm for businesses, and even governments, across the world, and it recently landed the European telecommunications company, Altice, as a client. A few weeks ago, Altice bought Cablevision for approximately $17.7 billion, creating the “No. 4 cable operator in the U.S. market.” And even though Teneo “handled the press,” The New York Times left the Clinton-linked firm out of its “scoop,” as I reported.
Teneo sometimes gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a month by clients, and both entities inherently have common ground to make each other look good to the public.
“Teneo is a senior-led advisory firm with deep collective experience working at the highest echelons of the public and private sectors,” the Teneo Holdings website states. “Our team has a rich knowledge base and global network of relationships that we bring to bear on behalf of our clients every day.”
If that “global network of relationships” includes New York Times reporters, then — in a sense — this rapidly growing international firm, which has been criticized for using government connections across the world to woo clients and accused of milking those links, controls the media on multiple levels. Teneo is especially secretive about its long list of clients — including “the CEOs of many Fortune 100 companies across a diverse range of industry sectors” and “senior leaders of many of the world’s largest and most complex companies and organizations” — and notorious for not commenting on controversies involving itself.
It’s bad enough when White House appointees go to and from the public sector, but working for both at the same time should raise major flags. The New York Times recently reported that Ms. Abedin bowed out of an email conversation with her State Department colleagues because it involved Teneo, while she was working for both. But not every government employee might have the same ethical concern. And despite the executive order’s claim that the “ethics pledge” was “enforceable under law,” there doesn’t seem to be any laws that even address exploitation of the “revolving doors” movement.
Huma Abedin wasn’t even the only person who performed work for Teneo and the State Department at the same time, as I reported in August. Banking executive Ken Miller — who contacted Ms. Abedin in July 2012 — was on the Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy going back to at least January 2012, and he took on a job as senior adviser for Teneo Holdings later that same year. Teneo’s website noted that he “act[ed] as adviser to the U.S. State Department,” which must have held appeal for its clients.
But no media outlet has even reported this. Maybe, because, as I mentioned above, this is just business as usual in American politics.
• Ron Brynaert was the former executive editor for the left-leaning political website, RAW STORY.