Hillary's private intel chief also an illegal lobbyist?

Last week, Gawker and ProPublica revealed that Hillary Clinton ran a private intelligence network while Secretary of State, with longtime Clintonista Sidney Blumenthal at its top, e-mailing her updates through her private server. They have also uncovered evidence that Blumenthal acted as a lobbyist for foreign interests during the same period. And since Blumenthal never registered as a lobbyist, that would be illegal, if true:

As Gawker reported last week in collaboration with ProPublica, emails from Blumenthal’s hacked account revealed that he was running what amounts to a private, off-the-books intelligence operation for Clinton, sending her detailed reports on goings-on in Libya, Europe, and elsewhere. Among these memos is one urging Clinton to consider re-examining the State Department’s posture toward the opposition in Georgia. …

Ivanishvili was eager to meet with then-Secretary of State Clinton, but found himself snubbed during a state visit in June 2012. In September 2012, Blumenthal prepared a long, official-looking memo for Clinton on the subject of the Georgian election. It passed along a note from John Kornblum, an international lawyer who had served as ambassador to Germany under Bill Clinton. According to Blumenthal’s memo, Kornblum was “working with the political party in Georgia opposing Saakashvili”; contemporaneous press accounts corroborate the fact that Kornblum was formally acting as an adviser to Georgian Dream.

Blumenthal’s preamble to the memo warned that Georgia “could be a potential hot spot a month before the U.S. election” if Saakashvili decided to “ratchet up tensions with Russia” as a political maneuver. Though he wrote that he was passing on Kornblum’s memo “without comment,” it is clear that Blumenthal thought the ideas should be taken seriously. …

Kornblum wasn’t just a geopolitical hobbyist. He was a lobbyist for a pro-Putin politician who was exploiting a connection to the secretary of state. Blumenthal, perhaps eager to get a chance to play diplomat after being rejected for an official State gig, happily played middle-man. The memo clearly constitutes evidence that Kornblum sought to influence U.S. policy on behalf of a foreign political leader, and that he enlisted Blumenthal for help in that project.

Generally speaking, it’s fine to lobby U.S. officials on behalf of a foreign power, as long as you register with the U.S. Department of Justice. If you don’t register, it’s a crime.

As one attorney explained to Gawker and ProPublica, even one instance of lobbying makes one a lobbyist. Just as there’s no such thing as a little bit pregnant, there’s no such thing as a little bit lobbyist. The single e-mail — and that’s just what’s known at the moment, thanks to the Scouring of the Server in Clintonland — would have required both Blumenthal and Kornblum to register as lobbyists for foreign governments. In fact, they’d have to do so at least ten days prior to lobbying a government official on policy, as was done in this instance, under The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938. The penalty for violating FARA runs as high as 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The response to this might be, so what? Hillary Clinton violated the Federal Records Act and defied a subpoena by destroying evidence specifically and explicitly sought by Congress. She hasn’t faced any consequences from that, has she? Except, of course, that Blumenthal and Kornblum aren’t Hillary Clinton. In this case, she’s not the one facing the primary legal consequences, although her decision to destroy the drive with this potential violation of FARA will undoubtedly produce more of those on a secondary basis. The US can certainly pursue those two for illegally lobbying a Secretary of State, and there’s not much Hillary can do about it — or would probably want to do about it, with all of the attention being shone on her activities now.

Will Blumenthal and Kornblum face those consequences, though? The question now goes to the Department of Justice under Barack Obama, whose aides have to be cringing with each new revelation that comes from the e-mail scandal. If they pursue it, they can try to make themselves look clean but risk uncovering even more embarrassing information. If they ignore it, the next administration might well pursue it — and probe why their administration did not. The smart move would be to open a probe but slow-walk it, especially since Congress is almost certain to investigate Blumenthal’s activities now. That’s the only way the Obama administration can control what comes out, at least for the next 22 months.

Addendum: By the way, this memo came to Hillary in September 2012, more than three years after the “reset button,” and during a period when it should have been crystal clear that Putin was a bigger threat than the Obama administration realized when they first took office. That was the last four months of Hillary’s tenure at State, which strongly suggests that she didn’t learn any lessons while she was there, and that also has some implications for her “foreign policy experience” argument if/when she runs for the presidency. Plus, she might need to answer a few questions about the pro-Putin tilt of her advisers, assuming the media bothers to ask about it.

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