'FOBs': How Hillary's State Dept. Gave Special Attention to 'Friends of Bill' After Haiti Quake
With offers to help pouring in, officials noted who was friend of the Clintons.
— -- In a series of candid email exchanges with top Clinton Foundation officials during the hours after the massive 2010 Haiti earthquake, a senior aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly gave special attention to those identified by the abbreviations “FOB” (friends of Bill Clinton) or “WJC VIPs” (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs).
“Need you to flag when people are friends of WJC,” wrote Caitlin Klevorick, then a senior State Department official who was juggling incoming offers of assistance being funneled to the State Department by the Clinton Foundation. “Most I can probably ID but not all.”
“Is this a FOB!” Klevorick writes later, when a Clinton Foundation aide forwards a woman’s offer of medical supplies. “If not, she should go to cidi.org,” she adds, directing the person deemed not to be a Clinton friend to a general government website.
Klevorick and Amitabh Desai, the director of foreign policy for the Clinton Foundation, exchanged dozens of emails, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Republican National Committee and then shared with ABC News. ABC News independently authenticated the emails.
The new emails have surfaced as the Clinton Foundation has once again mobilized a response to the latest humanitarian crisis in Haiti — the death and destruction following Hurricane Matthew. That effort is part of an ongoing commitment by the Clintons to help the Haitian people dating back nearly a decade.
However noble the motives of the officials working to get supplies into Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, numerous messages show a senior aide to then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton coordinating with a Clinton Foundation official to identify FOBs. The Clintons have said repeatedly that the State Department never gave favorable treatment to foundation supporters in Haiti or anywhere else.
“Nothing was ever done for anybody because they were contributors to the foundation,” Bill Clinton told CBS News’ Charlie Rose in September. “Nothing.”
The correspondence offers a glimpse into the first stages of a $10 billion Haiti recovery effort. The emails appear to show a State Department process that at times prioritized — and, some argue, benefited — people with close ties to the Clintons.
“I think when you look at both the State Department and the Clinton Foundation in Haiti, that line was pretty faint between the two,” said Jake Johnston, a Haiti analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Economic and Policy Research. “You had a lot of coordination and connection between the two, obviously. And I think that raises significant questions about how they were both operating.”
Klevorick told ABC News she served as a point of contact for numerous organizations seeking to help. She said she made notations about Bill Clinton to help determine whether they had a history in Haiti or with disaster relief.
“Everyone’s priority was to get the necessary resources to the right places as soon as possible to save lives,” Klevorick said.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told ABC News the agency served as “an important coordinating hub” for U.S. and international relief efforts. The emails, he said, “show State Department employees working across agencies and organizations, including President Clinton’s aides, to identify potential resources, solve problems and achieve the department and the U.N.’s shared goal of helping Haiti.”
Bruce Lindsey, the chairman of the board of the Clinton Foundation, told ABC News in a written statement that “no special treatment was expected or given.”
“This was a time of dire need, and we mobilized our network and wanted to make sure that any help offered was put to good use,” Lindsey said. “Many had been involved in disaster response before, in New Orleans after Katrina or after the tsunami, and again sought to help.”
Neither Bill Clinton nor Hillary Clinton was directly looped into the email conversations.
The correspondence paints a picture of the chaotic first days after the earthquake leveled much of the Haitian capital and claimed an estimated 200,000 lives. One series of messages chronicles efforts by billionaire Denis O’Brien, a longtime donor to the Clinton Foundation and the CEO of the Jamaica-based telecom firm Digicel, to fly relief supplies into Port-au-Prince and get employees of his company out.
“This WJC VIP just called again from Jamaica to say Digicel is being pushed by US Army to get comms back up but is not being cleared by [the U.S. government] to deploy into Haiti to do so,” Desai wrote in an email with the subject line “Close friend of Clintons.”
Later, O’Brien writes to longtime Clinton aide Doug Band to express frustration. “We’re finding it impossible to get landing slots,” he says. “I’m sorry to bother you but I am not making any progress through conventional channels.”
Band tasks Desai to “pls get on this,” telling O’Brien, “Never a bother.”
Desai then turns to Klevorick to help “a friend of President Clinton,” and the request is pushed up the chain of command to USAID officials organizing the relief effort.
In an interview with ABC News, O’Brien said desperate times called for desperate measures.
“I don’t see any problem contacting anybody in the United States if I’m bringing in emergency aid where people are dying on the street because of lack of medical attention,” he said. “I make no apologies for that.”
Scarcely a month into the reconstruction process, it was being described in a diplomatic cable as a “gold rush” for government contractors and aid groups.
Most of the messages do not discern whether the offers of help, which range from earthmoving equipment and generators to solar-powered water purifiers, were purely charitable or if they were made with the expectation of becoming part of the lucrative recovery effort. In one instance, though, Klevorick observes about a company’s offer of help with water units, “Sounds like they want a contract.” That firm lacked Clinton connections, according to the email, and it is unclear what became of its offer, but it did do Haiti recovery work. And at least one chain involved an introduction for a company specializing in disaster response.
Desai forwarded a note to Klevorick from Garry Mauro, who served twice as the Texas state chairman for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns and has donated $25,000 to $50,000 to the Clinton Foundation. The offer was for “major assets in Haiti” from a company called DRC Emergency Services. On its website, the company boasts of having performed emergency response work at disasters around the globe, with over $2 billion in disaster response contracts. Desai noted that Mauro was “a friend of WJC.”
Klevorick replied, “also note hrc friend,” using initials for Hillary Rodham Clinton. The email chain does not indicate if Mauro’s recommendation led to a contract for DRC, though the company’s website states, “Within 24 hours of the earthquake’s occurrence, DRC assembled and mobilized a team of highly experienced and dedicated personnel to Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas.”
Mauro told ABC News he approached the Clinton Foundation on behalf of DRC after seeing on television that former Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush were raising money for the disaster. DRC had already been doing temporary housing work in Haiti, and company officials thought the earthquake would open the door to a major business expansion.
“They wanted to get some of the business,” he said of DRC. “The Clinton Foundation was a facilitator. They didn’t have the money.”
Mauro said he flew to New York and attended a meeting run by Bill Clinton at his Clinton Foundation offices, where contractors and aid groups with Haiti experience described their capabilities. Mauro said he was not aware that foundation officials sent emails to the State Department about his client, and he did not know if the company ultimately received a contract.
An official with DRC said the company’s Haiti relief work was overseen by supervisors who were no longer with the company, and he did not know which entity paid for the contract.
Klevorick also fielded several requests for Rolando Gonzalez-Bunster, a board member of the Clinton Foundation who has business interests in power plants in the neighboring Dominican Republic and other nearby countries. In an email sent just days after the quake, with the subject line, “CLINTON FRIEND/WANTING INFO,” Bunster asks for detailed satellite imagery of the Haitian power grid after the earthquake to help “do a reconnaissance of the status of the transmission and distribution lines and power plants.”
In another email, Klevorick alerts a top USAID official of the request, referring to Bunster as a “close friend of the Secretary and Former President dating back to [their college years at] Georgetown.”
Bunster told ABC News the grid work was a donation and later garnered his company an award for its efforts.
A week after the earthquake hit, Klevorick wrote to the USAID’s congressional liaison, Kate Beale, who previously served as a policy staffer in the offices of then–New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
“Wjc/hrc friends come to you now,” she writes. “Would be great since you likely get this paradigm.”
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