Newly released Clinton emails shed light on relationship between State Dept. and Clinton Foundation

Story highlights

  • Judicial Watch released new Clinton emails Tuesday
  • They raised questions about the State Dept. and the Clinton Foundation

Washington (CNN)Newly released emails from Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state raise questions about the nature of the department's relationship with the Clinton Foundation.

Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, released 296 pages of emails from the Democratic presidential nominee, including 44 that Judicial Watch says were not previously handed over to the State Department by Clinton. The emails, many of which are heavily redacted, raise questions about the Clinton Foundation's influence on the State Department and its relations during her tenure.
    In one instance, top Clinton Foundation official Doug Band lobbied Clinton aides for a job for someone else in the State Department. In the email, Band tells Hillary Clinton's former aides at the department -- Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin -- that it is "important to take care of (redacted)." Band is reassured by Abedin that "Personnel has been sending him options."
    The emails were obtained by the group through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the State Department in 2015. The group did not respond to a CNN request for comment.
    The Trump campaign seized at the new batch of emails, citing them as evidence of Clinton being corrupt. The prolonged investigations into her use of a private email server while at the State Department has fueled public distrust of her and plagued her presidential bid. But the Justice Department declined to press charges against Clinton for her handling of classified information related to the server earlier this year, with FBI Director James Comey saying while she was "extremely careless," it was his judgment that "no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case."
    In a 2009 email, Band directs Abedin and Mills to put Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire and Clinton Foundation donor, in contact with the State Department's "substance person" on Lebanon.
    "We need Gilbert Chagoury to speak to the substance person re Lebanon," Band wrote. "As you know, he's a key guy there and to us and is loved in Lebanon. Very imp."
    "It's jeff feltman," Abedin responded, referring to Jeffrey Feltman, who was the US ambassador to Lebanon at the time. "I'm sure he knows him. I'll talk to jeff."
    Feltman told CNN Wednesday that he never met with Chagoury.
    "I have never met nor spoken with Mr Chagoury. I was not aware of the proposal that he speak to me until this email exchange was released, but in any case we never spoke," he said.
    Judicial Watch President Tom Filton said in a press release that Clinton "hid" the 44 emails on purpose.
    "No wonder Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin hid emails from the American people, the courts and Congress," he said in a press release. "They show the Clinton Foundation, Clinton donors, and operatives worked with Hillary Clinton in potential violation of the law."

    Clinton defense

    Clinton's campaign said the emails didn't relate to her work at the Clinton Foundation.
    "Neither of these emails involve the secretary or relate to the Foundation's work," said an emailed statement from Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin. "They are communications between her aides and the President's personal aide, and indeed the recommendation was for one of the Secretary's former staffers who was not employed by the Foundation."
    The Clinton campaign said Wednesday that Chagoury only wanted to offer insights on the then-upcoming Lebanese election and was not looking for any specific action from the State Department.
    "The right-wing organization behind this lawsuit has been attacking the Clintons since the 1990s and no matter how this group tries to mischaracterize these documents, the fact remains that Hillary Clinton never took action as secretary of state because of donations to the Clinton Foundation," Schwerin said in a statement.

    Trump response

    GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump sought to use the emails to paint Clinton as corrupt.
    "This is yet more evidence that Hillary Clinton lacks the judgment, character, stability and temperament to be within 1,000 miles of public power," said Stephen Miller, Trump's national policy director. "She views public office as nothing more than a means to personal enrichment -- and every dollar she takes comes at the expense of the public welfare. This latest finding is an unseemly, disturbing window into a corrupt office, and yet more evidence that Hillary Clinton has been lying from the beginning -- and by any reasonable definition attempted to obstruct the investigation of the FBI."
    Trump also tweeted: "When is the media going to talk about Hillary's policies that have gotten people killed, like Libya, open borders, and maybe her emails?"
    Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Wednesday that if the State Department doesn't release all of the remaining Clinton emails by November it will prove the system is "rigged" -- a line Trump has used recently.
    "Anything less than a full release of these public records before voting begins will only further prove that we have a rigged system that has one set of rules political elites and another for everyone else," Priebus said in a statement.

    Server investigation

    On Wednesday, Judicial Watch released written testimony from Mills, in which she provides further detail on how Clinton's private email server was set up to address potentially security concerns. Mills told the attorneys she spoke with a Clinton IT staffer in 2013, after learning the email account of a close Clinton confidante, Sidney Blumenthal, had been compromised by a hacker.
    "As I recall, these discussions involved whether this event might affect Secretary Clinton's email," Mills said in follow-up answers to an earlier deposition given to Judicial Watch.
    Mills also said she recalls speaking to the same staffer -- Bryan Pagliano -- about the company overseeing the server set up.
    "As I recall, these discussions involved whether Platte River Networks would have the technical capacity and be the appropriate source from which to gather Secretary Clinton's email from the system," Mills said.
    Early this year as the investigation into Clinton's private email server was in full swing, several FBI field offices approached the Justice Department asking to open a case regarding the relationship between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation, according to a law enforcement official. At the time, DOJ declined because it had looked into allegations surrounding the Clinton Foundation around a year earlier and found there wasn't sufficient evidence to open a case.
    In a hearing last month on Capitol Hill, FBI Director James Comey declined to say whether the Clinton Foundation was under investigation, saying: "I'm not going to comment on the existence or non-existence of any investigation."
    For there to be criminal conflict of interest there would have to be evidence showing a government employee received something of value in exchange, such as a job post-employment or money. There doesn't appear to be anything so far suggesting that in the newly released, heavily redacted emails from Judicial Watch. But those emails do raise questions about whether the relationship between the State Department and Clinton Foundation was too cozy, particularly after Clinton pledged she would not be involved with the foundation when she became secretary of state, in an effort to prevent an inappropriate relationship.
    In a case where there's a possible conflict of interest that's not necessarily criminal, the inspector general can look into it and take an administrative remedy if necessary. The State Department OIG has been looking into connections between the State Department and Clinton during her term as secretary of state since earlier this year, but has not said anything about the matter.
    The Clinton Foundation has repeatedly said it is not being investigated.
    On Tuesday, the Clinton campaign said there is nothing to suggest foul play, and Clinton had nothing to do with the newly released emails. The campaign has said in the past the Clintons don't take a salary from the foundation and all their income is disclosed.
    A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.