A minor bombshell went off in mid-June when ABC News first reported that a Chicago securities trader and major donor to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Family Foundation had been placed on a sensitive State Department nuclear weapons advisory board in July 2011 with no apparent expertise in the area.
The donor, Rajiv K. Fernando, had contributed to Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign before she became secretary of state. He then gave a $250,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation followed by between $1 million and $5 million in contributions. And most recently he donated to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
In July 2011, he was appointed to the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board, a blue-ribbon panel of prominent retired generals, a former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other high ranking national security experts specializing in tactical nuclear weapons and focusing on the practices of Russia and Pakistan.
The Chicago investor – whose background was primarily in information technology and financial risk management -- was granted access to the government’s highest levels of top secret information. But within a month of his appointment, Fernando stepped down – after some of the other board members questioned his credentials for the assignment and ABC News began making inquiries at the State Department.
“We had no idea who he was,” one of the board members told ABC News.
Fernando's appointment quickly became fodder for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's stump speeches.
"He was a donor, a recent donor to Hillary Clinton's campaign and also gave as much as $250,000 to his foundation," he said in June at a campaign rally. "They all looked, they said 'Where did this guy come from?' He made a contribution of $250,000 all of a sudden he's on this very important, vital board. This position dealt with tactical nuclear weapons and had Top Secret clearance and he knew nothing about it."
The episode of a loyal Clinton supporter with deep pockets receiving special consideration in an appointment at the State Department began to fade as the battle between Clinton and Republican Donald Trump heated up heading into the GOP and Democratic national conventions. Trump’s subsequent campaign meltdown as he lashed out at a Gold Star family of a fallen Army hero and alienated both prominent and rank and file Republicans overshadowed new questions about Clinton’s honesty.
But the controversy over whether Clinton engaged in “pay for play” practices in which she arranged for government favors to friendly donors and supporters of her family’s global foundation was rekindled a week ago. That came with the release of a fresh batch of Clinton’s State Department emails obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch in a Freedom of Information law suit.
In the latest revelation, Douglas J. Band, a long-time aide to former President Bill Clinton after he left the White House, sent urgent email messages to two of Hillary Clinton’s top State Department aides attempting to arrange a meeting for another major foundation donor, billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, who wanted to speak to a top official at State on the Lebanon situation, according to The New York Times.
Hillary Clinton’s senior aide Huma Abedin responded that the department’s personnel department was already on the case and was sending him “options.” Abedin wore multiple hats, both as a top aide to the secretary of state and as a consultant to the foundation.
As it turned out, nothing ever really came of the requests, from what is currently known. Chagoury, a Nigerian-based hotel and real estate developer whose family was from Lebanon, never got his meeting with a former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon to discuss the upcoming 2009 Lebanon elections. Moreover, he had no direct contact with Clinton or her State Department aides.
Nonetheless, Trump, GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence and other Republicans claim that the newly released emails highlight how Clinton and her husband pursued interlocking strategies for raising money for the family foundation and advancing Clinton’s political career.
During an appearance on Fox News Sunday yesterday, Pence strongly called for a federal investigation into whether Hillary Clinton while serving as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013 provided political favors to foreign donors to the Clinton Foundation, insisting that the American people have a right to know.”
The FBI and Justice Department did not examine the operations of the Clinton Foundation during its extensive probe of her mishandling of official, top-secret email during her four years as secretary of state, which ended last month with FBI Director James B. Comey strongly criticizing her use of a private email server but recommending against any formal criminal charges.
Pence, the Indiana governor, contended that the latest batch of emails released last week suggested a connection between major donors to the Clinton Foundation and State Department officials, but acknowledged that Clinton’s involvement remains murky.
“It looks that way more and more every day,” Pence told Chris Wallace, the Fox News Sunday host. “That's what we need to find out. … This is exactly the kind of pay- to- play politics the American people are sick and tired of. It is just one more example of the way I do believe that the Clintons have been operating over the last 30 years.”