One senator wants to know if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deleted her emails regarding the very delayed designation of Boko Haram as a terrorist organization — and if a very well-heeled donor influenced that policy.
The query is not new for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), but it’s now reflected in some additional disturbing lights: the admission by Clinton that she used personal email while the nation’s top diplomat and screened which ones to keep or discard, and the ascension of Boko Haram to an ISIS affiliate.
In June of last year, Vitter questioned why the State Department, under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “misled” Congress on the threat posed by Boko Haram.
He cited 2011 evidence on Boko Haram presented to the State Department by the National Counterterrorism Center, followed by a delay in the group’s terror designation until fall 2013.
“Recent evidence suggests Secretary Hillary Clinton and the State Department not only knew of the extent, but also deliberately attempted to obfuscate the issue in order to avoid having to make the designation of Boko Haram as a FTO, including downplaying the State Department’s own Country Reports on Terrorism (CRT),” Vitter wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry then.
“Inaccuracies within official documents make it clear that the State Department misled Congress and the American people. Evidence suggests that there was an internal decision by the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism to downplay official, legally required, intelligence data in order to purposefully avoid making the determination,” the senator continued.
Boko Haram, founded in 2002, began its campaign of attacks in earnest in 2009 but wasn’t put on the terror list until November 2013 — on the eve of Nigerian activists coming to Congress to testify about Boko Haram’s crimes and demand the terrorist designation. The State Department’s listing of Boko Haram and its offshoot, Ansaru, was so sudden the morning of the House subcommittee hearing that the submitted testimony of Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist, still included a plea for the U.S. to finally add the Islamist groups to the list.
“We are concerned that it took them too long,” said Ogebe said, who put in his prepared remarks that “part of the State Department’s response has been to deny the religious motivation of a rabid jihadist group that has repeatedly declared its goal of overthrowing the state and establishing a radical Muslim theocracy; to downplay the repeated threats to America going back several years by claiming this is all ‘local’; presenting arguments rationalizing terrorism by psycho-analyzing the emotional disconnect between the central government and northern Muslims who fuel the terrorism.”
Even after a February 2012 promise by Boko Haram to assassinate the U.S. ambassador, the State Department kept the Nigerian terrorists off the list.
Vitter has suggested that Clinton’s deep donor ties to Gilbert Chagoury, a major Lebanese-Nigerian land developer who has given millions to Democratic campaigns, the Clinton library and Clinton Foundation global initiatives, could have accounted for some of Clinton’s reticence in the terror designation — a recognized terrorist group operating in the region, after all, makes more than a dent on local economies and investors get scared off.
When Chagoury was added to the no-fly list and pulled off a plane in 2010, it took just a few months to get a waiver and a written apology from the Department of Homeland Security — though he said afterwards that he didn’t approach the Clintons for help.
The Chagoury Group says it is “a leading Nigerian employer, with a workforce numbering tens of thousands of Nigerian and other African and international personnel,” boasting manufacturing, construction, industrial, hotels and hi-tech companies under its umbrella.
Yesterday, Vitter sent more correspondence to Kerry, asking that his department turn over “all additional files specifically relating to the designation of Boko Haram as a terrorist organization during former Secretary Clinton’s term and seek out any related files which may not have already been turned over by Secretary Clinton.”
“Given the drastic foothold Boko Haram was allowed to gain prior to being designated an FTO, the nexus between the Department’s decision against designating Boko Haram as an FTO and connections to outside groups should be brought forward. Associated records should have been preserved as evidence of the agency’s activities, decisions and procedures. These should be presented to the relevant committees and to the American public to be evaluated for corresponding misconduct,” Vitter wrote.
He stressed that while last year’s evidence of “inaccuracies within official documents” makes “clear that the State Department misled Congress and the American people,” additional evidence “demonstrates that multiple Department employees who were directly involved in the decision against designating Boko Haram as an FTO, including the Office Coordinator for Counterterrorism, have been Clinton Foundation employees.”
Vitter noted that while the Boko Haram designation was being stalled, President Clinton was participating in events with Chagoury, whose pockets are so deep he has a section named after him at the Louvre. Those included a February 2012 speaking engagement at the dedication ceremony for Chagoury’s new luxury housing project.
Long under the microscope for corruption, allegations he has denied, Chagoury settled a 2000 money laundering case in Geneva with a fine of a million Swiss francs and paying $66 million to the Nigerian government; that conviction has since been expunged from his record by the Swiss.
“We need to know if Mr. Chagoury had any influence in the decision not to designate Boko Haram an FTO, or had any other influence with Sec. Clinton’s foreign policy decisions,” Vitter wrote.
Mark Corallo, who was retained by Chagoury back in 2010 during his incident with TSA and is now close friends with the philanthropist, said Vitter’s hunt into the relationship of Chagoury and the Clintons as it relates to the Boko Haram listing is baseless.
Corallo said Chagoury “has had no contact with Hillary Clinton for years – predating her time as a U.S. senator.”
“So even if Senator Vitter somehow retrieves Hillary’s emails, he’ll find no emails or correspondence of any kind with Secretary Clinton or the Department of State. Furthermore, while he has had a well-publicized friendship with former President Clinton and has donated to the Clinton foundation, I would point out that he has also donated to the George W Bush presidential library. Why? Because both President Bush and President Clinton showed a real interest in Africa and Ambassador Chagoury truly appreciated both men and their efforts,” Corallo told PJM.
Corallo called Chagoury “one of the most kind, generous and peace loving men I have ever known” and charged that for Vitter “to use him as a foil is pathetic.”
“To implicate a good man in some nefarious scheme to benefit the ruthless Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram – a group that is responsible for murdering thousands of Nigerian Christians and innocent Muslims who are Ambassador Chagoury’s countrymen is despicable,” he said.
Vitter, who is running for governor of Louisiana this year, reminded Kerry that he’s “long opposed the foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation as a conflict of interest for Secretary Clinton due to the nature of the job.”
“Former Secretary Clinton’s actions in conjunction to information I have previously presented to the Department where she circumvented and misled Congress should be closely examined,” Vitter wrote. “…Due to the highly unusual nature of the current circumstance, I am asking you to demonstrate the Department’s commitment to transparency and to provide all files related to their decision not to designate Boko Haram an FTO, and all communication with Mr. Chagoury or his affiliated businesses.”
“These actions, if true, run contrary to the trust placed in the Department, as a representative of the United States and constitutional government. It is imperative to fully disclose relevant information to the American public.”
Boko Haram killed more than 6,300 civilians in 2014 alone, and its rampages this year have included some 2,000 deaths in the Baga massacre alone. Most of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped 11 months ago, sparking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, have not been found.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on 3/20/14 to add comment from Chagoury associate Mark Corallo.