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Two of Joe Biden's national security picks have ties to past scandals

National Security Adviser-designate Jake Sullivan was key figure in Clinton email probe; Secretary of State designate Tony Blinken faced scrutiny in Hunter Biden business deals.

Published: November 23, 2020 11:19pm

Updated: November 24, 2020 8:13am

Joe Biden reached deep into the Obama Administration's alumni for his prospective Cabinet – should he be certified the winner of the 2020 election – and in so doing also threatened to resurrect old scandals like Hillary Clinton's email debacle and the Hunter Biden influence controversy.

Biden on Monday announced he wanted as his national security advisor former State Department official Jake Sullivan, who at 43 years old would be the youngest in history. Biden also chose longtime Senate and White House aide Antony Blinken to be his secretary of state should he be sworn in on Jan. 20.

While both picks command enormous respect in national security circles, their past ties to Obama-era scandals could give Republicans fodder for confirmation hearings. Sullivan was a key figure in the probe of Clinton’s mishandling of classified information on a private email server, while Blinken had contacts with Hunter Biden and his Burisma Holdings colleagues in the Ukraine impeachment drama.

Emails recovered from Clinton’s private email server show Sullivan was among the senior State officials to regularly correspond with the secretary of state using the insecure communications channel, including sending her information that was subsequently deemed to be classified at the top secret and secret level.

For instance Sullivan emailed Clinton on her personal account a memo about Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on June 7, 2012, a topic later to be determined to classified at the “secret” level. Clinton responded several hours later:

“I’m even more determined to do this and have some ideas I want to discuss w[ith] you,” Clinton wrote Sullivan.

At the time, U.S.-Pakistani relations were facing a difficult patch as Khar was demanding the United States apologize for an airstrike that killed 26 Pakistanis the previous day.  

In other classified emails made public under lawsuits from the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch, Sullivan:

  • Sent an email June 13, 2009, to Clinton and aide Cheryl Mills discussing Sullivan’s conversations with Northern Ireland leaders.
  • Sent classified information in a January 26, 2010, email to Clinton and top aide Huma Abedin explaining that he has “pasted” (his word) from another document a written summary sent to him from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair’s conversations were with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Irish leaders regarding the sensitive Northern Ireland peace process.
  • Forwarded an email dated August 31, 2011, from former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman sent to former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, William Burns and that was released heavily redacted as classified. The secretary of state responded, “I called him [redacted.] Didn’t you get memcon?”

In an April 2019 deposition with Judicial Watch, Sullivan acknowledged he had used the private email server frequently but never intended to transmit classified information.

“Like Secretary Clinton has said herself, I wish she had used a State Department account,” he testified. “It wasn’t really part of my job to be thinking about Secretary Clinton’s emails so I don’t think I sort of fell down directly in my job, but do I wish I had thought of it during the time we were at State. Of course. I mean, what human being at this point wouldn’t have thought of that?”

Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, said his group’s open records lawsuits exposed serious lapses in judgement by Sullivan.

“Jake Sullivan is a central figure in the Clinton email scandal and the related cover-up of the Benghazi terrorist attack,” Fitton told Just the News. “That he has yet to be held accountable for misusing classified information is another scandal. He can’t be trusted with the nation’s secrets.”

Sullivan also played a smaller role in the Russia scandal, admitting to the House Intelligence Committee he peddled now-disproven allegations of Trump-Russia collusion to news organizations like ABC, FOX, CBS and NBC during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Basically we sat with them and walked through what we understood to be the case from – in terms of the DNC hack and leak, what we believed to be the case with respect to Russian involvement and then what we thought the upshot of this was, which is you now have the start of a much more aggressive phase of an intelligence-led operation by foreign power,” reads Sullivan’s transcript.

“And that was essentially the presentation that we made to reporters and producers, without an ask, simply to say: This dynamic is unusual, perhaps unprecedented, when you pull all of the factors together. And it's going to be an important issue between now and November 8th, when the election occurs,” Sullivan added. 

Blinken’s name came up earlier this summer in a Senate investigation into Hunter Biden’s overseas business activities. Blinken had served with Joe Biden in the Senate, as national security adviser to the vice president and deputy secretary of state. 

For instance, documents released by the State Department show that on March 22, 2015, Hunter Biden emailed his father’s longtime trusted aide seeking a meeting, nearly a year after Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma as the energy company battled corruption allegations in Ukraine.

“Have a few minutes next week to grab a cup of coffee? I know you are impossibly busy, but would like to get your advice on a couple of things, Best, Hunter,” Biden wrote.

Blinken responded the same day with an “absolutely” and added, “Look forward to seeing you.”

Records indicate the two men were scheduled to meet the afternoon of May 27, 2015, although it is unclear whether the meeting took place. But other State Department memos, confirm Hunter Biden met with Blinken for lunch on July 22, 2015, at the State Department. 

Two days later, on July 24, 2015, Vice President Joe Biden called President Poroshenko of the Ukraine and raised concerns about anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. 

On February 4, 2016, Hunter Biden sent a notification to Blinken indicating he was following Blinken on Twitter. 

A few months later, two lawyers working for the Democratic lobbying and consulting firm Blue Star Strategies who were representing Burisma made efforts to lobby Blinken to get State Department officials to stop taking a negative view on Burisma.

One of the lawyers, Sally Painter, sent an email to State on June 27, 2016, indicating she had broached the subject with Blinken at a public event and was trying to set up a follow-up coffee with the deputy secretary of state.

"Per my conversation with Tony at the Truman event, Karen Tramontano and I would like to have a brief coffee with Tony at his earliest convenience regarding troubling events we are seeing in Ukraine," Painter wrote.

In a deposition, Painter expanded on what she was trying to do, hoping to get a State Department supervisor in the U.S. embassy named George Kent to stop taking a negative view of Blue Star’s work on Burisma.

“I've known Tony – I've known Mr. Blinken over 25 years as a professional colleague. … We wanted to get his guidance on how to deal with Mr. Kent,” she said.

Painter said she never got the follow-up audience with Blinken.

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