As the Smoking Gun and others have reported, a hacker calling himself (or herself) "Guccifer" claims to have compromised the email account of former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, revealing memos that Blumenthal purportedly wrote to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Benghazi and other matters. What seems to have escaped notice is that Blumenthal, a fierce Clinton partisan in the 1990s, was the orchestrator of a subterranean smear campaign against Obama during the Democratic primary and was specifically spiked by the White House as a potential staffer for Clinton when she became Secretary of State. And he was sending notes to Clinton at a private, non-governmental email address. Did Obama know Clinton was consulting with the guy who tried to kneecap him?
Blumenthal has long been a fomenter of dark whisper campaigns against Clinton enemies. He was famously accused in the 1990s by his former friend Christopher Hitchens of spreading the lie that Monica Lewinsky was a mere "stalker" who shouldn't be taken seriously. More recently, as Gawker reported, he was busy compiling scurrilous opposition research dossiers about Barack Obama's purported ties to unwholesome black preachers that ended up in Fox News chief Roger Ailes' inbox. That sort of behavior is, presumably, why the Obama White House put the kibosh on Clinton's attempt to hire Blumenthal at the State Department in 2009.
But that apparently didn't stop Clinton from using him in an unofficial capacity. As screenshots provided by Guccifer to Gawker and other news outlets make clear, Blumenthal was a prodigious emailer to an address that appears to be Clinton's, for instance sending 13 messages—with subject headings like "H: Libya, latest Benghazi intel. Sid"— to the address in December 2012. In one memo dated September 2012—which should be taken with a grain of salt, since Guccifer apparently copied and pasted the text into a new document before taking a screengrab—Blumenthal reports the findings of a "sensitive source" with direct access to Libyan president Mohammed Magarief's thinking on Benghazi. The screengrabs released thus far don't include any indication that Clinton wrote back to Blumenthal.
If the screengrabs are genuine, they indicate that late last year Clinton was relying on—or at least receiving—the advice of a man that the White House had explicitly nixed as an advisor on one of the most pressing and urgent matters facing the State Department. They also raise a host of questions about Blumenthal and Clinton's relationship. Did he have a security clearance? (If so, was it affected by his 2008 arrest for "aggravated DWI"?) Where was he getting "sensitive source" information about internal Libyan politics?
And why was Clinton apparently receiving emails at a non-governmental email account? The address Blumenthal was writing to was hosted at the domain "clintonemail.com" (we're not going to publish everybody's email address!), which is privately registered via Network Solutions. It is most certainly not a governmental account.
Staffers in the Bush White House famously used private email accounts to conduct government business as a way to circumvent the Presidential Records Act, which mandates that all official communications be archived. Republicans are suspicious that the Obama White House is continuing the practice; Rep. Darrell Issa is currently investigating it. Clinton's emails are also subject to the Freedom of Information Act. While it's not strictly a violation of the PRA and FOIA for Clinton to conduct official business on a non-government account, the law requires that those emails be archived along with her @state.gov communications. And there seems to be little reason to use a different account other than an attempt to shield her communications with Blumenthal from the prying eyes of FOIA requesters. Neither the State Department nor the White House would immediately comment on whether the White House knew that Blumenthal was digitally whispering in Clinton's ear, or if the emails were preserved as the law requires.
And if, as it appears, Blumenthal's emails contained information that was classified, or ought to have been treated as such, it could be a major security breach for Clinton to have allowed it to be sent to her on an open account, rather than through networks the government has specifically established for the transmission of classified material. Why, someone could hack into it. You never know.
Through his son Max, Blumenthal declined to comment.
[Images via Getty]