If Hillary Clinton thought the soft glow of the good press she received while roaming the globe to no great effect during her four years as secretary of state would last until her planned 2016 coronation as president, it’s time to for her to rethink her strategy. Public anger about the lies that were told about the Benghazi terror attack as well as her failure to provide adequate security to diplomats that were placed in harm’s way was bad enough. But the latest State Department scandal linked to her office is the sort of thing that could begin the process by which Clinton’s status as the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee starts to unravel.
As CBS first reported yesterday, investigation into a series of cases involving sexual misconduct by both ambassadors as well as security personnel were called off on the orders of senior State Department officials on Clinton’s watch. Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills gave the order in one case while other top-level officials stopped other probes. The confirmation of the cases in an internal State Department memo shows a pattern of sexual misconduct—including on the part of those charged with protecting Clinton—that is troubling. But the manner in which higher-ups consistently suppressed these embarrassing investigations is even more worrisome. While Clinton is not personally named as the one ordering the cover-ups, the links between the secretary and those committing the bad behavior as well as those shutting down the probes are clear.
The most egregious in a list of potentially explosive stories involves Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium who was accused of routinely ditching his security detail and then soliciting prostitutes, including minors. But Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, ordered the investigation shut down. Gutman was apparently given a stern lecture but otherwise got off without any sanctions and is still serving as America’s envoy in Brussels. According to the State Department report, Gutman’s security detail and staff were well aware of what he was up to.
Gutman first came to our attention back at the end of 2011 for declaring that Israel was to blame for the rise of anti-Semitism in contemporary Europe. That might have been enough to end a normal diplomatic career but Gutman, who earned his post by bundling more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions for President Obama, hung onto his job with no trouble as a State Department spokesman said the views Gutman expressed were his own rather than official U.S. policy.
The implication of the shutting down of an investigation into Gutman’s behavior is clear. Senior people at the State Department, including those who report to Clinton, were obviously under the impression that a scandal involving in a major Obama giver and appointee would be political poison for the president during an election year.
The same applies to the fact that similar investigations into Clinton’s personal security detail were also shut down. Apparently those tasked with protecting the secretary were believed to have hired prostitutes during her trips to Russia and Colombia. The practice was said to be endemic and going on in the same hotel where the secretary stayed.
You don’t have to be a CIA spook or John le Carre to understand the implications of such misconduct in terms of security breaches and possible blackmail by foreign intelligence agencies. Yet none of those involved got anything more than a slap on the wrist.
In yet another case, Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff and personal enforcer, intervened directly in order to shut down an investigation into possible misconduct by Brett McGurk, Clinton’s choice to be ambassador to Iraq.
Taken in total, the reports present a picture of a Clinton State Department lacking in accountability and mired in a culture of cronyism in which anyone connected to either Clinton or President Obama had a permanent “get out of jail free” card. Like Benghazi and other administration scandals in which President Obama’s defenders are forced to claim he knew nothing about misconduct in order to preserve him from accusations of involvement, Clinton must now use the same excuse. There is no way to avoid the conclusion that if she did not take part in the ordering of these cover-ups, she was completely out of touch with what was happening under her nose.
No doubt, Clinton’s apologists will use the same tactic as these scandals unravel. But if Mrs. Clinton is truly looking ahead to 2016, she might consider that a bumper sticker that reads “Incompetent Rather Than Corrupt” does not make for an appealing campaign slogan.