Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted some of the paid speeches that President Bill Clinton asked the State Department about were “unusual requests” but defended the process used to vet her husband’s speeches.
“The process that was set up in my years as secretary of state was for any requests that my husband received to be sent to the State Department to be vetted, so it didn't matter where it was coming from. It was going to go to the State Department,” Clinton said at news conference at the Democratic National Committee meeting in Minneapolis today.
“There was some unusual requests, but they all went through the process to try to make sure that the State Department conducted its independent review. He did neither of those speeches," she noted, referring to requests involving North Korea and the Congo.
“We tried to really be as careful and thoughtful in that process and this is another example of how it worked,” she added.
ABC News first reported today that Bill Clinton sought approval from White House staff for two speeches involving repressive regimes -- North Korea and Congo. New State Department emails showed the requests came from one of Clinton’s aides at his foundation -- including Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff at the time -- and were sent to State Department officials.
The emails included details for the Congo speech, but the nature of the North Korea event was unclear. The email suggested the invitation for the North Korea event may have come from Hillary Clinton's brother, Tony Rodham.
In her news conference today, the former secretary of state noted her husband traveled to North Korea in 2009 to secure the release of two detained American journalists.
“President Obama sent my husband to North Korea to rescue the two journalists who had been captured. This was after a painstaking negotiation to try to convince the North Korean leader to release these two young women. And every offer we made, every diplomatic overture we made was rebuffed,” Clinton explained. “Finally, the North Koreans said, if Bill Clinton comes, we will give him the two journalists. We thought about it, obviously the president and I and others analyzed it. We wanted those young women home and we said ‘Okay.’ I tell you that, because that was a successful mission that accomplished its purpose.”
“I think it's beyond unlikely that the State Department -- not involving me -- but that the State Department would say, you know, we think it's a good idea for you to go back and see what more you can find out, see what you can pick up. Now, in the end, that was not something my husband wanted to do and not something that the State Department wanted him to do. It never happened,” she added.
Clinton also said that by submitting all speech requests to the State Department, it would allow the agency to weigh whether a speech could be beneficial -- even if the nature of the event raised questions.
“We had a process so that all of these requests would be vetted. It would be highly unlikely that it would be a positive response. Yes, we want you to go but not totally beyond the realm of possibilities. So that's the way we did it,” she said.
Clinton was also asked about new emails sent while Huma Abedin worked as a special government employee, an arrangement that allowed Clinton's top aide to work for four different employers at once. Clinton declined to answer that question.
The newly disclosed emails have prompted Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to start an inquiry with the State Department concerning the vetting process for Bill Clinton’s speeches.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Grassley notes Bill Clinton’s aide did not include the agency’s ethics officials on his emails about the speeches.
“It appears that the pattern of conduct for reviewing matters for approval may have excluded the agency ethics official. If that is the case, the failure to involve the relevant ethics officials directly conflicts with the representations made to Congress and the public that the ethics official would be involved,” Grassley said in a letter to Kerry.
In 2009, Clinton agreed to provide information for paid speech requests to a “designated agency ethics official” to “review for any real or apparent conflict of interest with the duties of Secretary of State.”