The conservative group Citizens United appeared in federal court today to try and force the U.S. State Department to turn over detailed records about Rajiv Fernando, a major donor to the Clinton Foundation who was given a position on a sensitive government intelligence advisory board when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.
“The only reason why Mr. Fernando was appointed to this board of security experts was because of his big donations to the Clinton Foundation,” said David N. Bossie, the president of Citizens United. “The American people have a right to see these documents before the November election.”
Internal correspondence between career State Department employees showed that in 2011 top aides to then-Sec. Clinton requested Fernando be placed on the highly sensitive International Security Advisory Board, which advises the secretary on nuclear security and other classified arms control matters, as reported in June.
The emails show some State Department officials were confused about why Fernando, a Chicago commodities trader with a long history of political donations but no known national security background, would be placed alongside officials with decades of arms control experience.
The emails make repeated references to “S”, which ABC News has been told is a common way to refer to the Secretary of State.
“The true answer is simply that S staff (Cheryl Mills) added him,” wrote Wade Boese, who was Chief of Staff for the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, in an email to State Department press aide Jamie Mannina. “Raj was not on the list sent to S; he was added at their insistence.”
State Department officials have publicly said Fernando’s appointment was part of an effort to diversify the backgrounds of people on the board. The same day as ABC News’ June report, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters Fernando had been fully vetted, but he could not speak to his specific qualifications.
“I apologize, I don’t have his [resume] in front of me,” Toner said. “All I know is that the charter does lay out or stipulate that [they’re] looking for a broad range of experiences. It’s not unimaginable that a businessman, an international businessman, might bring a certain level of expertise or knowledge or experience to such a job.”
Public records show Fernando has given between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, and he is a major donor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
ABC News sought to ask Fernando about the issue at this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where he was serving as a Super Delegate for Clinton. He declined to be interviewed.
Among those with whom Fernando served on the International Security Advisory Board was David A. Kay, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group and United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector; Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a former National Security Advisor to two presidents; two former congressmen; and former Sen. Chuck Robb. William Perry, the former Secretary of Defense, chaired the panel.
“It is certainly a serious, knowledgeable and experienced group of experts,” said Bruce Blair, a Princeton professor whose principal research covers the technical and policy steps on the path toward the verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons. “Much of the focus has been on questions of nuclear stability and the risks of nuclear weapons use by Russia and Pakistan.”
The previously released emails include one in which Fernando tells State Department officials he has hired a tutor to help him get up to speed for the appointment.
Today’s filing asks the court to force the State Department to turn over copies of Fernando’s financial and ethics disclosure filings, “submitted on his behalf to State in May 2011 in connection with a security clearance form.”
“We know there was an ‘issue’ that held up Raj Fernando’s security clearance and these two documents will go a long way in explaining the issue,” Bossie said.
Previously undisclosed emails that Citizens United obtained through an earlier Freedom of Information request, and provided to ABC News, reference an “issue” with Fernando’s security clearance. The emails do not explain why Fernando was never issued the secret clearance (at a level known as Top Secret SCI, for Sensitive Compartmented Information) that was required to participate in advisory board meetings. An email from an official with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security says he was provided a temporary clearance, “and all that implies, including his membership in ISAB (but no SCI access).”
Soon after the first, largely ceremonial session, ABC News inquired about Fernando’s appointment to the board, and he abruptly resigned.
The State Department declined to provide copies of Fernando’s financial and ethics disclosure filings to ABC News in July. Elizabeth Trudeau, a department spokeswoman, said in response to the request that, “While some financial disclosure forms are publicly available upon request, others are confidential.”
The department declined to comment today about the Citizens United case seeking to make those disclosure reports public.