Hillary Clinton's State Department aides seemingly rushed a top secret security clearance for a Democratic donor in order to place him in a government position for which he was not qualified.
Rajiv Fernando, a major donor to the Clinton Foundation and a top bundler for President Obama's campaigns, landed a high-level appointment to the International Security Advisory Board in 2011, only to resign amid scrutiny of his credentials four days after a reporter began asking questions.
Emails obtained by the conservative watchdog group Citizens United through the Freedom of Information Act indicate staffers at the State Department felt pressure to obtain a security clearance for Fernando, a Chicago businessman, in order to facilitate his service on the board.
After ABC News reporters asked the State Department for a copy of Fernando's resume in August 2011, agency officials were told to "stall" the inquiry while aides discussed how to "protect" Clinton from the fallout that might ensue.
Cheryl Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff, drafted a statement several days later announcing Fernando's quiet resignation.
Fernando has given up to $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to donor records.
Clinton's ties to the Democratic donor remain close. In July, she attended a private fundraiser at Fernando's home for which supporters had to pay $2,700 per ticket.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner defended Fernando's appointment last week, arguing Clinton's team had thought an "international businessman might bring a certain amount of expertise and knowledge" to the panel of national security experts.
In an email sent May 9, 2011, Fernando asked Huma Abedin, then Clinton's deputy chief of staff, for a face-to-face meeting with the secretary of state.
Abedin seemed happy to indulge the request.
Fernando and one of his employees exchanged a series of emails with State Department officials in early May as they sorted out what records Fernando would need to supply in order to get his security clearance.
"[P]lease be patient as this process takes a while to complete," wrote Chip Hartman, executive director of the International Security Advisory Board, on May 6, 2011.
Behind the scenes, a number of State Department officials scrambled to clear Fernando to handle classified information.
Nearly a month later, Fernando asked if he would be permitted to attend an upcoming board meeting if the FBI had not yet finished screening him.
"For the members that are going through a background investigation, we've asked DS for an interim Top Secret clearance," Ann Green, an official in the State Department's executive office, wrote on June 2, 2011.
An official who identified himself in an email only as "Mark" told Green later that Fernando's background investigation had been opened on May 23, 2011 and was slated to be completed by July 22.
On June 30, Hartman emailed Fernando and assured him the State Department was working to get his clearances before the board meeting scheduled for mid-July.
"We really want you to attend the opening meeting," Hartman wrote. While most of his message to Fernando was redacted, Hartman concluded by telling the Democratic donor that the security clearance process can often be "frustrating."
"I am still hopeful that we will be able to work something out," he said. "We will keep pushing from our end."
On July 1, James Onusko, another State Department employee, noted that an "executive order" would be required to grant Fernando a temporary security clearance.
According to later email traffic, Fernando declined to accept a paycheck for his service on the board so he could remain head of his securities company, instead becoming a "special government employee" at the State Department. Abedin was granted the same status the following year so she could collect compensation from the agency, the Clinton Foundation and a consulting firm called Teneo Strategies — all at the same time.
By the late afternoon of July 1, 2011, Fernando had been granted an interim top secret clearance.
Jacqueline Dale, yet another State Department employee working on his case, wrote in reply to the notice that the effort to obtain his clearance was successful: "NOW I DON'T HAVE TO CAMP OUT HERE TONIGHT."
Clinton was scheduled to attend the inaugural meeting of the board on July 12, 2011, emails showed.
But by August, Fernando had stepped off the national security board.
Shortly before his resignation, a reporter with ABC News began questioning Fernando's qualifications to serve in such an elite position.
"Right now, the only thing put out on him is that he is CEO of a Chicago trading firm, which doesn't exactly explain how he fits into a board of renowned experts on military, diplomatic and political matters," the ABC News reporter wrote to the State Department in August when pressing for background information about Fernando.
Other internal communications obtained by Citizens United indicate agency officials in the press shop struggled to respond to the reporter because, as they discovered, Fernando had been named to the panel at the behest of Clinton herself.
The presumptive Democratic nominee has long denied that donors to her family's philanthropic network yielded any special treatment from her State Department.