— -- A top lawmaker wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry today with concerns about the "integrity" of a State Department security advisory board following an ABC News investigation into how a Clinton donor was placed on the sensitive panel when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, despite him apparently having no relevant national security background.
The controversy also provoked sharp remarks from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump aimed at his Democratic rival.
“As you know, the [International Security Advisory Board] has a serious mandate to provide the [State] Department with advice on arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation,” Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., wrote. “Most board members have had previous high levels of relevant government, military, and academic service, reflective of the seriousness of these issues. Needless to say, this episode casts doubt on the credibility of the board.”
Earlier today ABC News reported that newly released State Department emails indicate that a Chicago commodities trader and prolific Democratic donor, Rajiv Fernando, was put on the ISAB in 2011 at the behest of one of Clinton’s top aides, to the confusion of the State Department’s professional staff.
When ABC News began asking questions about the appointment in 2011, the emails showed then-Secretary Clinton’s staff sought to “protect the name” of the Secretary, “stall” the ABC News reporter and ultimately accept Fernando’s resignation just two days later.
Copies of dozens of internal emails were provided to ABC News by the conservative political group Citizens United, which obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act after more than two years of litigation with the government.
“I have spoken to [State Department official and ISAB Executive Director Richard Hartman] privately, and it appears there is much more to this story that we’re unaware of,” says one of the emails, written by State Department press officer Jamie Mannina to her colleagues. “As you can see… it’s natural to ask how he got onto the board when compared to the rest of the esteemed list of members.”
In wake of the report, Royce asked Kerry what the criteria was for appointing board members, how it has changed since 2011 and for “information on any steps the Department has taken to restore and protect the integrity of the Board in the past five years.” Kerry became Secretary of State in 2013.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump jumped on the controversy today in Washington, D.C.
“They all look, they say, ‘Where does this guy come from?’” Trump said. “He made a contribution of $250,000 and all of the sudden he’s on this very important and vital board.”
Prior to his State Department appointment, Fernando had given between $100,000 and $250,000 to the William J. Clinton Foundation, according to the foundation’s website, and another $30,000 to a political advocacy group, WomenCount, that indirectly helped Hillary Clinton retire her lingering 2008 campaign debts by renting her campaign email list.
Trump said new ethics rules were needed to “restore the dignity to the office of the Secretary of State.”
Questioned by reporters about Fernando’s appointment, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner offered little more today than the State Department could in 2011.
“I apologize, I don’t have his [resume] in front of me,” Toner said. “All I know is that the charter does lay out or stipulate that [they're] looking for a broad range of experiences. It’s not unimaginable that a businessman, an international businessman, might bring a certain level of expertise or knowledge or experience to such a job.”
When asked if Fernando came from a security background, Toner said, “I don’t believe so.”
For the original report, the Clinton campaign deferred comment to the U.S. State Department, which issued a statement to ABC News saying in part that the board’s charter specifically calls for a membership that reflects “a balance of backgrounds and points of view. Furthermore, it is not unusual for the State Department Chief of Staff to be involved in personnel matters.”
Fernando did not respond to messages left by ABC News at home and mobile numbers listed for Fernando, nor to a letter left at the office of his current business.
CLICK HERE to see the original investigation. ABC News' Andrea GonzalesPaul contributed to this report.