In 2013, it was first reported that the Clinton State Department had called off eight separate internal investigations into alleged misconduct by the diplomatic corps. When whistleblowers attempted to highlight the wave of coverups, they were subjected to a harassment campaign by the State Department. The law firm representing the former State Department employee who publicized the misconduct was broken into and key evidence stolen in an apparent effort to further obfuscate efforts to ensure a proper investigation into the crimes was carried out. The event was not given widespread attention by the media when it first emerged.
I. The U.S. Government Failed To Appoint An Inspector General For Five Years
Hillary Clinton was appointed to her position as Secretary of State on January 21, 2009, serving until February 1, 2013. From January 16, 2008 to September 30, 2013, the Obama administration had failed to appoint an Inspector General for the Department of State (DS). This led some lawmakers to question DS as to why the agency’s top watchdog position, tasked with investigating the practices of roughly 260 embassies worldwide, had been left empty for more than five years, creating the longest such vacancy in the history of any federal agency. This led Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) to write a letter to then Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that he urge the President to nominate a permanent Inspector General for the Department of State as soon as possible. Because DS lacked an Inspector General, Harold W. Geisel, the Deputy Inspector General, was appointed the interim Inspector General of the State Department. Geisel would remain in this position for the next five years, until June 2013.
In 2013, it was first reported that the Clinton State Department had called off eight separate internal investigations into alleged misconduct by the diplomatic corps during the time that there was no appointed inspector general. Of these eight quashed investigations, the one which has found its way back into the limelight, as a result of the media’s complete blackout of President Trump’s human trafficking busts, is that of the former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman. MSNBC’s Chuck Todd detailed these allegations in a video report from early June of 2013.
II. Ambassador Gutman Was Shielded From Criminal Charges By The State Department
Howard W. Gutman was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium on August 14, 2009. Before being sworn into his role as Ambassador, Gutman was known to be one of President Obama’s top donors, raising a staggering $775,000 for the 2008 campaign and inauguration committee. In 2016, hacker Guccifer2.0 began releasing documents from the DNC and DCCC. According to these documents, Gutman is said to have raised a total of $816,550 for Obama For America (OFA) and $724,500 for the DNC. The donations are part of what was a culture of pay to play politics in the Obama administration. Four years later, Gutman would again be find himself in the public eye, after the release of a ‘damning’ internal memo.
According to this memo, the Department of State assigned an agent to conduct an investigation into possible criminal behavior involving the ambassador to Belgium. The agent reported that Ambassador Gutman would regularly leave his protective security detail, in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minors. However, after only two days of preliminary inquiry, the agent was directed to stop any further investigation into the matter, because of a decision by senior Department officials to treat the matter as a “management issue.” In June of 2011, in response to the allegations and information obtained by the agent, Ambassador Gutman was recalled to Washington D.C., where he met with Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, and then Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Secretary of State, Cheryl Mills. During the meeting, the Ambassador denied all allegations of wrongdoing, and was then permitted to return to his post, with no further action being sought.
Despite the decision to terminate the investigation after only two days, DS Management argued to OIG that the decision was proper, as “no further investigation was possible”. However, in its findings, OIG concluded that DS was wrong, and that further evidence could have in fact been recovered. According to the memo, OIG found that over the course of the two-day investigation, “only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed.” OIG further found that not only did DS fail to interview Ambassador Gutman, but DS did not follow its normal, established investigative procedures of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening. Lastly, OIG found that DS failed to even keep investigative case files on the matter.
Patrick Kennedy told OIG that he decided to handle the incident as a “management issue”, based on disciplinary provision 3 FAM 4322.2 of the Foreign Affairs Manual. According to this provision, when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation. Kennedy went on to explain that he cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas. When questioned about his determination to terminate the investigation and characterize the explosive allegations as a “management issue”, Kennedy responded that he has, “always acted to honor the brave men and women I serve, while also holding accountable anyone guilty of wrongdoing. In my current position, it is my responsibility to make sure the Department and all of our employees-no matter their rank-are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation.”
On January 23, 2017, amid rumors that he would be replaced, Kennedy left the State Department, ending a career which began in 1973. This was the same day Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his first trip to the State Department, in order to introduce himself.
III. State Department Memos Were Edited To Prevent Scandal, Cover Up Embarrassing Details
Earlier drafts of the memo provided to the Washington Examiner, showed DS interim Inspector General, Harold W. Geisel, along with other state officials, editing out passages of the memo, that would have been extremely embarrassing to Hillary Clinton just days before she stepped down from her post.
According to a draft dated November 16, senior officials in the State Department would actively influence the progress and results of internal investigations, as well as to shield “rising stars” from criminal charges or embarrassment that could potentially harm their career. One case, which triggered outraged comment from several special investigations division sources, related to allegations that a Regional Security Officer engaged in serious criminal conduct including sexual abuse of local embassy staff during a series of embassy postings. Sources also stated that a senior diplomatic security official successfully protected some agents on the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's security detail from investigations into misbehavior while on official trips. The Examiner reported that no explanation was given as to why this text was removed from the final OIG report published in February 2013.
Another passage that was removed from the February 2013 report indicates that officials from the State Department's "7th Floor Group" shielded Ambassador Gutman from an investigation into alleged pedophilia. In a separate draft from November 27, next to the passage detailing the investigation into the pedophilia allegations against Ambassador Gutman, someone had typed: “[T]hese allegations must be deleted.” However, this comment was removed from the November 28 draft.
However, the case against Ambassador Gutman is just one of many State Department cover-ups outlined in the memo. Some of the other alleged cover-ups include:
- Justine Sincavage, Director of Diplomatic Security Service, closing an investigation into former DS regional security officer in Beirut, Chuck Lisenbee, after he was accused of multiple sexual assaults on guards in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Sincavage declared the allegations a "witch hunt" and gave agents "only three days" to investigate before closing the investigation.
- Details about an “underground drug ring” operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad which supplied State Department security contractors with drugs, causing one individual to die of a methadone overdose, which he was taking to counteract his addiction to oxycodone. DS regional security officer prevented a special investigation into these matters.
- One passage, completely redacted in the final memo, which revealed that many bureau of diplomatic security officials whom were the subject of investigations, would often come to work with their firearms, leading some investigators to do the same.
- William Brownfield, assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs allegedly “gave the impression” to the Diplomatic Security Service that a probe into the deaths of four Hondurans involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) should not be pursued. At the time the memo was written, the case reportedly remained open, as the DEA refused to cooperate.
- Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills' intervention into an investigation into an affair between then-Iraq Ambassador-designee, Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon, after his emails were leaked.
- The ‘endemic’ hiring of prostitutes among agents belonging to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail. According to the memo, seven security agents were accused of paying for sex while they were traveling overseas with Secretary Clinton. Two of these agents would confessed to the allegations, while a third stated that he ‘paid for services that were ultimately not received’. Despite these confessions, senior State Department personnel allowed one of the offending agents to continue his role in securing a Moscow hotel, ‘despite obvious counterintelligence issues.’ Investigators would later uncover evidence against four more agents, however, senior officials would halt any further investigation into the remaining agents, ‘despite the possibility of counterintelligence issues.’
IV. The State Department Harassed Whistleblowers Who Made The Scandals Public
The Examiner obtained these earlier drafts from Richard Higbie, a senior criminal investigator at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, after he had disclosed the documents to several members of Congress, as well as multiple congressional committees, under federal whistleblower protections. In a live interview with The Blaze, Higbie provides further insight into the alleged State Department cover-ups. Many of these documents were provided by whistleblower, Aurelia Fedenisn, through a subpoena issued by Higbie’s legal team.
Fedenisn, a former investigator for the State Department Inspector General for 26 years, stated that she wanted to share the original memo with the media, in order to show how internal investigations were being influenced by officials in the State Department. In an interview with CBS, Fedenisn stated that investigators, “uncovered several allegations of criminal wrongdoing in cases, some of which never became cases." Fedenisn explained that agents were very upset with the pushback they received from senior State Department officials: "We were very upset. We expect to see influence, but the degree to which that influence existed and how high up it went, was very disturbing.” According to Fedenisn, when a high-ranking State Department security official was shown a draft of their findings, detailing how investigations were being interfered with by senior State Department officials, he said, “This is going to kill us.”
However, once the final report was released, all references to these specific cases had been removed. Regarding how investigators felt after receiving so much pushback for simply doing their jobs, Fedenisn stated, "I mean my heart really went out to the agents in that office, because they really want to do the right thing, they want to investigate the cases fully, correctly, accurately ... and they can't.” Cary Schulman, Fedenisn’s lawyer, told NBC that her client felt it was important that Congress get this information. Schulman went on to state, “It’s a coverup…The whole agency is impaired. Undue influence . . . is coming from political appointees. It’s coming from above the criminal investigation unit.”
Fedenisn claimed that in response to bringing this information to light, she has been the subject of an intimidation campaign by the Department of State. In an interview with The Cable, Fedenisn’s attorney stated that the Department of State had law enforcement officers camp out in front of Fedenisn's house, harass her children and attempt to incriminate her. Schulman said after Fedenisn’s interview with CBS, investigators from the State Department’s Inspector General, arrived at Fedenisn’s residence and went to the door where they talked to both of her children and never identified themselves. Investigators talked to the “…older brother and then the younger daughter, a minor, asking for their mom’s place of work and cell phone number…They camped out for four to five hours.” According to Schulman, the purpose of the investigators visit was to have Fedenisn sign a document admitting that she stole State Department materials. However, Fedenisn’s separation agreement with the State Department includes a provision, which legally allows disclosures of misconduct. Schulman further stated that none of this material was classified.
V. Intruders Broke Into The Firm Representing Whistleblowers To Steal Evidence
On June 29, 2013, the firm representing both Higbie and Fedenisn, Schulman & Mathias, was broken into multiple times. The entire incident was captured on camera and reported by the local Fox affiliate. The report states that after kicking the glass of the door in, the two burglars sawed a hole through the wall from an adjoining office and stole three computers, leaving behind other valuables. The firm was the only suite burglarized in the high-rise office building, while all other offices were left untouched.
In a statement to The Cable, Schulman noted that the break-in was, “…a crazy, strange and suspicious situation… It’s clear to me that it was somebody looking for information and not money. My most high-profile case right now is the Aurelia Fedenisn case, and I can’t think of any other case where someone would go to these great lengths to get our information."
The break-in came shortly after it was reported that Higbie’s email account had been hacked. According to Schulman, the hack targeted Higbie’s Gmail account and the perpetrators, deleted four years of emails, some detailing alleged wrongdoing at the State Department. As reported by the New York Post the deleted e-mails included evidence of misconduct by top officials at the department, communications with other potential whistleblowers there, correspondence with members of Congress who were investigating the allegations, and correspondence between Higbie and Schulman regarding legal strategy. Schulman, calling the hacking job “sophisticated” and the targeting of his client is “alarming”, noted, “Obviously, somebody is not happy with something he’s doing and wanted to get that information and also cause him an inability in the future to have ready access to that.”
Although it’s been nearly four years since this story broke, Disobedient Media was able to contact Damon Mathias, formerly of the Schulman & Mathias law firm. When asked about the circumstances surrounding the break-in, Mathias noted that he was “fresh out of law school”, and that they were a very small firm.
“I was a very young attorney and I partnered with an older attorney…and we had a very small, humble office, it was just us two. We weren’t exactly a prime target. I flew to Washington that same week the story broke…[and] gave testimony before Congressional committees. And then…15 days later all the computers are taken”
When asked if they ever heard back from members of Congress after giving testimony before committees, Mathias confirmed a disappointing truth: that these Congressional hearings are simply just for show. While Congressmen enjoy getting their names in an article in relation to the topic, the subject is usually dropped soon afterwards. “It’s all a show, it’s all a show. And right after I met with them, you saw the OIG meeting with Royce’s committee and after that it was crickets. It was over" Mathias said. Recounting his experience with the information he was able to see, Mathias stated, “At the end of the day…the glimpse that I saw going through those documents, and going through everything was just, wow, you know, in our name? We are citizens and they go abroad in our name. The stuff that they’re doing…It definitely needs to be brought to light.”
The final thought Mathias left us with was a sad, bleak picture regarding the fears held by many other governmental officials who have seen wrongdoing throughout their time in government, and why they either wait until the end of their careers or instead, choose to never whistleblow at all, “I’ll tell you this…the one thing with Aurelia, where it was kind of the perfect storm, is that she was on her way out. There are a lot of people up there who will not say anything… I’m not gonna judge them, but, you know, it’s very tough to do that when you still have a lot riding on the line. And the thing with Aurelia is she was out, so she had that freedom to speak out and the retaliation wasn’t really there…there’s a lot out there, but a lot of people are just way too afraid to speak out, unfortunately. We haven’t really helped whistleblowers in that regard.”