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New questions arise about Clinton Foundation ties to State Department

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.(REUTERS/Bryan Woolston)

WASHINGTON — A top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department agreed to try to obtain a special diplomatic passport for an adviser to former President Bill Clinton in 2009, according to emails released Thursday, raising new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.

The request by the adviser, Douglas J. Band, who started one arm of the Clintons’ charitable foundation, was unusual, and the State Department never issued the passport. Only department employees and others with diplomatic status are eligible for the special passports, which help facilitate travel, officials said.

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign said there was nothing untoward about the request and that it related to an emergency trip Bill Clinton took to North Korea in 2009 to negotiate the release of two American journalists. Hillary Clinton has long denied that donors had any special influence at the State Department.

The exchange about the passport, between Band and Huma Abedin, who was then a top State Department aide to Hillary Clinton, was included in a set of more than 500 pages of emails made public by Judicial Watch, a conservative group that sued for their release.

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“Need get me/justy and jd dip passports,” Band wrote to Abedin on July 27, 2009, referring to passports for himself and two other aides to Bill Clinton, Justin Cooper and John Davidson. “We had them years ago but they lapsed and we didn’t bother getting them.”

Abedin emailed back six minutes later to say, “OK will figure it out.” Band did not explain in the email exchange why he and the others needed the diplomatic passports, and Abedin did not ask.

But a person with knowledge of the issue, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the three men were arranging to travel with Bill Clinton to Pyongyang, North Korea, less than a week later for the former president’s secret negotiations.

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Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused Judicial Watch of misrepresenting the episode.

“Judicial Watch is now attacking State Department officials and the 42nd president of the United States for rescuing two American journalists from North Korea,” the campaign said. “This is a new low even for this right-wing organization that has been going after the Clintons since the 1990s.”