When the Clintons last occupied the White House, Sidney Blumenthal cast himself in varied roles: speechwriter, in-house intellectual and press corps whisperer. Republicans added another, accusing Mr. Blumenthal of spreading gossip to discredit Republican investigators, and forced him to testify during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Now, as Hillary Rodham Clinton embarks on her second presidential bid, Mr. Blumenthal’s service to the Clintons is again under the spotlight. Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a Republican who is leading the congressional committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, plans to subpoena Mr. Blumenthal, 66, for a private transcribed interview.
Mr. Gowdy’s chief interest, according to people briefed on the inquiry, is a series of memos that Mr. Blumenthal — who was not an employee of the State Department — wrote to Mrs. Clinton about events unfolding in Libya before and after the death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. According to emails obtained by The New York Times, Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, took Mr. Blumenthal’s advice seriously, forwarding his memos to senior diplomatic officials in Libya and Washington and at times asking them to respond. Mrs. Clinton continued to pass around his memos even after other senior diplomats concluded that Mr. Blumenthal’s assessments were often unreliable.
But an examination by The Times suggests that Mr. Blumenthal’s involvement was more wide-ranging and more complicated than previously known, embodying the blurry lines between business, politics and philanthropy that have enriched and vexed the Clintons and their inner circle for years.
While advising Mrs. Clinton on Libya, Mr. Blumenthal, who had been barred from a State Department job by aides to President Obama, was also employed by her family’s philanthropy, the Clinton Foundation, to help with research, “message guidance” and the planning of commemorative events, according to foundation officials. During the same period, he also worked on and off as a paid consultant to Media Matters and American Bridge, organizations that helped lay the groundwork for Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Much of the Libya intelligence that Mr. Blumenthal passed on to Mrs. Clinton appears to have come from a group of business associates he was advising as they sought to win contracts from the Libyan transitional government. The venture, which was ultimately unsuccessful, involved other Clinton friends, a private military contractor and one former C.I.A. spy seeking to get in on the ground floor of the new Libyan economy.
The projects — creating floating hospitals to treat Libya’s war wounded and temporary housing for displaced people, and building schools — would have required State Department permits, but foundered before the business partners could seek official approval.
It is not clear whether Mrs. Clinton or the State Department knew of Mr. Blumenthal’s interest in pursuing business in Libya; a State Department spokesman declined to say. Many aspects of Mr. Blumenthal’s involvement in the planned Libyan venture remain unclear. He declined repeated requests to discuss it.
But interviews with his associates and a review of previously unreported correspondence suggest that — once again — it may be difficult to determine where one of Mr. Blumenthal’s jobs ended and another began.
Mr. Gowdy’s committee on the attacks in Benghazi hopes to ask Mr. Blumenthal who, if anyone, was paying him to prepare the memos for Mrs. Clinton and whether they were among his responsibilities at the Clinton Foundation. The committee’s investigators are also interested in whether the planned business venture in Libya posed any potential conflicts for Mr. Blumenthal or Mrs. Clinton, whose aides the business partners sought meetings with in early 2012.
The Libya venture came together in 2011 when David L. Grange, a retired Army major general, joined with a newly formed New York firm, Constellations Group, to pursue business leads in Libya. Constellations Group, led by a professional fund-raiser and philanthropist named Bill White, was to provide the leads. Mr. Grange’s company, Osprey Global Solutions, based in North Carolina, would put “boots on the ground to see if there was an opportunity to do business,” Mr. Grange said in an interview.
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SOURCE: The New York Times
Nicholas Confessore and Michael S. Schmidt