Clinton chief attacks State Dept. watchdog

Clinton chief attacks State Dept. watchdog
© Greg Nash

John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump approval falls 4 points in new survey Voting advocates notch win at Supreme Court House Democrats expand 2018 targets MORE’s presidential campaign, says there are “serious questions” about the integrity of the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG). 

The OIG is locked in an increasingly contentious fight with Clinton’s campaign on a host of issues, including her use of a private email account during her time as secretary of State. 

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It has also reportedly subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation for documents related to charity projects and is investigating close Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s work as a “special government consultant” while she worked at State. 

A source within the OIG contacted The Hill claiming that the office has grown increasingly partisan, accusing it of having an “anti-Clinton” bias. 

Told by The Hill about the remarks, Podesta described the source as a “whistleblower” whose comments called into question the integrity of the OIG investigations. 

“This person’s account is highly troubling, and is cause to ask serious questions about the independence of this office,” Podesta said of the source. The Clinton campaign says it does not know the identity of the source.

An OIG official strongly disputed the source’s account.  

“Partisan politics play no role in OIG’s work,” the spokesman said Monday. 

The source charges that State Inspector General Steve Linick is “excessively deferential” to Emilia DiSanto, the OIG deputy director and a former aide to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP talks of narrowing ‘blue-slip’ rule for judges Grassley: Don't expect anti-Trump leaks to stop after special counsel appointed GOP senator wouldn’t be ‘surprised’ if Comey forced to cancel testimony MORE (R-Iowa). 

Grassley is at the center of several investigations about Clinton, including whether Abedin was overpaid by the government while working for the State Department. He’s been aided in his probe by what he says is a “confidential source” at the OIG — Democrats charge this is DiSanto.

“Our work is becoming overtly anti-State Department, pro-Republican and anti-Clinton,” the OIG source said, charging that DiSanto is working with an “active partisan mandate to undermine both the State Department as a federal agency and Secretary Clinton as a presidential candidate.”

The source also charged that Linick is “more or less under her control, possibly out of a desire for a more prestigious appointed position.”  

Grassley’s staff and the OIG have strongly pushed back at those assertions. 

The OIG spokesman noted that Linick, a two-time appointee of President Obama, was asked by Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryColombia's president is a foreign guest Trump should listen to Anti-ISIS cyber op struggled with issue of notifying allies How American compassion, vision and innovation can end the AIDS epidemic MORE last year to investigate how the department handles records management, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and the archiving of emails. The request was made on the heels of questions about Clinton’s use of a private email server. 

So far, the OIG has issued a report on its handling of FOIA requests. The State Department has accepted all of the OIG’s recommendations.  

“At all times, State OIG operates as an independent organization, consistent with the law,” the official said. “Our work will continue to be unbiased, objective, and fact-based. We are currently reviewing the email practices of the current and last four Secretaries of State, including the impact of these practices on FOIA and agency record keeping requirements. Any suggestion that the office is biased against any particular Secretary is completely false.”

Jill Gerber, a spokeswoman for Grassley, also maintained that “inspectors general work hard to stay out of politics.

“Their credibility and effectiveness depend on being independent, so accusations of political bias are serious charges to make, especially without any evidence,” Gerber said. “Sen. Grassley’s office has a professional relationship with the State Department’s inspector general’s office, as with many such offices.”

Clinton and other Democrats have been irritated by the OIG investigations for some time. 

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? Racial representation: A solution to inequality in the People’s House MORE (D-Nev.) in a phone call with Grassley accused him of getting help on his investigation from a former aide in the OIG office. 

At the same time, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) has also questioned the office’s impartiality. 

“That office should be independent and trustworthy, but the more we find out, the more I question its ability to conduct an impartial investigation,” Israel said in a statement to The Hill.

Clinton campaign officials have argued that the various OIG probes are simply intended to hurt Clinton’s presidential campaign. 

“They have mounted several different fishing expedition-style investigations since she decided to run for president,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last month. “There’s no basis to any of them, and I think that it’s intended to create headwinds for her campaign.”

Grassley, his staff and the OIG argue that Clinton’s campaign and fellow Democrats are trying to muddy the OIG investigations by besmirching its reputation. 

After Reid ripped Grassley’s investigation on the Senate floor last fall, the Iowa Republican fired back. 

“It’s well known that Sen. Reid uses the Senate floor to politicize topics in a way that’s helpful to the Democratic Party, President Obama and now Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign,” Gerber told The Hill late last year. 

Grassley has been among several Republicans leading the charge on the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of State. He has scrutinized Abedin’s time sheets, concerned she was possibly overpaid while on maternity leave. 

Abedin’s “special government employee” status allowed her to work simultaneously at the State Department and as an outside consultant to Clinton. Abedin currently serves as the vice chairwoman of Clinton’s campaign.

Gerber argued that while Clinton was at State, Harold Geisel, a career State Department official, served as interim IG and that “Secretary Clinton and her political operatives aren’t used to the work of a permanent, Senate-confirmed inspector general since she didn’t have one during her entire tenure as secretary.

“If Secretary Clinton and her aides want to resolve the many outstanding questions, they should start cooperating more fully with investigators and stop seeing a conspiracy where there is only independent oversight,” Gerber said.

Updated at 10:20 a.m.