The Slatest

No Scandal in New State Department Emails, but Hillary Still Has Some Explaining to Do

Hillary Clinton speaks at a press conference on Dec. 15, 2014, in New York City.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The drip, drip, drip continues: The latest batch of State Department emails from Hillary Clinton’s tenure, released Tuesday, further highlights the occasionally overlapping interests between the agency and the Clinton Foundation. The messages, which don’t directly involve the Democratic nominee herself, aren’t going to overshadow Donald Trump’s ongoing self-immolation—nor should they—but they are worth a closer look.

The emails in question—which were obtained from the State Department via a Freedom of Information Act request and then published by Judicial Watch, a conservative advocacy group—are between two of Clinton’s closest State Department aides, Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, and a senior executive at her family foundation, Douglas Band, who at the time was leading the Clinton Global Initiative.

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In one 2009 exchange, Band reached out to Mills and Abedin in an attempt to put Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who had donated heavily to the foundation, in touch with the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon. Abedin’s response suggests she’d make the connection. “I’m sure he knows him,” she wrote in reference to Jeffrey Feltman, who was the American ambassador to Lebanon at the time. “I’ll talk to jeff.” Band then responded by urging Abedin to call the ambassador herself ASAP. “This is very important,” he added.

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In a separate exchange several days earlier, Band asked for something his subject line described as “a favor.” The email is heavily redacted, but it appears as though Band was passing along a note from someone who had recently traveled to Haiti on a Clinton Foundation trip and was subsequently looking for a job at the State Department. “Important to take care of [redacted],” Band wrote. To which Abedin replied: “We have all had him on our radar” and “Personnel has been sending him options.”

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The Clinton campaign is trying to shrug the whole thing off by claiming that Band was simply acting in his capacity as a former personal assistant to Bill Clinton and not in his role with the foundation. Even if that’s the case, though, that’s a distinction without a whole lot of difference given there is no bright line separating the two.

So how big of a deal is this? Again, in the big bucket of Clinton controversies (both real and imagined) this is but a drop. The Chagoury email thread gives the impression that a big-dollar donation to the Clinton Foundation got you a State Department–themed perk or two, but there’s no smoking gun proving that actually happened—as there almost never is with this type of thing. The “favor” thread, meanwhile, is missing too much information to allow anyone to draw a definitive conclusion about favor-trading, or even say for certain whether the unknown man ultimately even landed a State Department gig. And, of course, nothing in these emails is nearly as troubling as your run-of-the-mill Trump policy proposal or stump speech.

Still, that doesn’t mean these emails should be dismissed, nor should the general concern about overlap between the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton-run State Department. They provide a peek at how Hillary conducted business while secretary of state and hint at how she would do so as president of the United States. Clinton should—and hopefully will—have to answer these questions. Simply being less reprehensible than Trump does not put her above scrutiny.

Read more from Slate on the 2016 campaign.

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