By Amie Parnes and Bob Cusack - 11/19/15 06:00 AM EST
Frustrated with one of his colleagues, Sen. Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate MORE (D-Nev.) picked up the phone late last month to express his irritation.
The minority leader wanted to know why Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyClinton email headache is about to get worse Ten senators ask FCC to delay box plan Overnight Cybersecurity: Guccifer plea deal raises questions in Clinton probe MORE (R-Iowa) was blocking nearly two dozen State Department nominees over work done by Huma Abedin, a longtime senior aide to Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSuperdelegate sees sexism in criticism of Clinton GOP senator: Did Clinton email setup play a role in Russian invasions? Latinos key in Democratic battle for California delegates MORE.
Grassley has also scrutinized Abedin’s time sheets, concerned that she was possibly overpaid by the federal government while she was on maternity leave.
The Iowa senator has publicly said he has a “confidential source” helping his investigation of Abedin.
Democrats claim they know who that source is and are accusing the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) of leaking information to Grassley about Abedin. They say the source is Emilia DiSanto, a former Grassley aide who is now deputy director of the State Department OIG.
Grassley, staffers for the Iowa senator and DiSanto adamantly deny she is the confidential source.
DiSanto said, “These allegations are utterly false. I am not, nor have I been, either directly or indirectly, a ‘confidential source’ for Sen. Grassley or his office.”
A spokeswoman for Grassley said Democrats know who the source is because they were at a briefing with the source. She specifically cited Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyOvernight Cybersecurity: Guccifer plea deal raises questions in Clinton probe Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise MORE (Vt.) and House Oversight panel ranking member Elijah Cummings (Md.).
Asked about the meeting, Leahy spokeswoman Jessica Brady said, “Even if we disagree over whether it’s appropriate for the committee to investigate a matter, the ranking member’s staff requests to be included in the process to ensure fairness.” She declined further comment.
Cummings, who is mulling a bid to become one of Grassley’s colleagues in the upper chamber, didn’t comment for this article.
In the private conversation with Grassley, Reid said he was aware that DiSanto works at the OIG.
“I’m hearing that your staff is getting all of this [information] from a former aide of yours,” Reid told Grassley, according to Grassley staffers who were briefed on the call.
“Now, I would never want to do anything to hurt you, Chuck,” Reid said, according to the GOP aides.
Adam Jentleson, Reid’s deputy chief of staff, said Wednesday that his boss was simply trying to be helpful. He did confirm that Reid brought up DiSanto in the phone conversation and that he had been briefed on “where [DiSanto] was and where she used to be.”
But staffers for Grassley say the chairman told Reid that DiSanto was not his source during the exchange.
Nearly two weeks after the phone call, Reid went to the Senate floor to rip Grassley, though he didn’t mention DiSanto.
“How much taxpayer money is Sen. Grassley wasting on this anti-Hillary Clinton campaign?” Reid said on the floor. “He should be willing to tell us about his committee resources that are being used to investigate Hillary Clinton.”
The Grassley spokeswoman fired back at Reid this week, telling The Hill, “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.”
The partisan finger-pointing between Reid and Grassley comes amid the 2016 presidential election cycle and a couple of months after the OIG publicly waded into Clinton’s email controversy.
Earlier this week, The New York Times reported on the allegations about DiSanto and Grassley’s holds on State Department nominees.
Democrats accuse Grassley of needlessly stringing the Abedin investigation out while GOP officials claim the State Department has repeatedly refused to hand over relevant documents.
It’s likely that the fight will intensify, with Democrats launching a counterattack to Grassley’s probe of Abedin, a confidante of the former secretary of State.
Brad Woodhouse, the president of Correct the Record, the super-PAC supporting Clinton, says it’s obvious that Grassley is receiving information from DiSanto, directly or indirectly.
“You know the saying, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck,” Woodhouse said in an interview.
He added, “We believe she’s passing along information to Grassley to hurt Huma ... and to hurt Secretary Clinton. Would he be interested in this issue if Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president? Of course not.”
The Hill was provided a timeline that makes the case that DiSanto is Grassley’s source. The timeline notes when DiSanto started at the OIG and points out Grassley’s touting of his confidential source.
Grassley aides say the timeline is flawed. They say the document highlights a Washington Times article about leaked documents but that it doesn’t mention that the story says the source of the information provided didn’t come from the Senate or the State Department OIG.
John Solomon, the executive editor of The Washington Times who wrote the article, told The Hill Wednesday, “What I reported is 100 percent accurate. I did not receive the documents from anyone in the Senate or the OIG, including Emilia DiSanto.”
The timeline also alleges Politico published an article based on a copy of Abedin’s emails that are watermarked in a way that “proves” that they were provided from the State OIG to Grassley.
However, the OIG doesn’t use watermarked documents. Grassley sources note that the State Department does use watermarks, which suggests the emails were in the hands of many people outside of Grassley and the OIG’s offices.
At press time, Grassley lifted his hold on many of the State Department nominees and placed a hold on the nominee for the department’s undersecretary, Thomas A. Shannon Jr.
This story was updated at 9:40 a.m.