A major Democratic donor personally lobbied then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office for a seat on a sensitive government intelligence board, telling one of her closest aides that if appointed he would make Clinton “look good.”
Rajiv Fernando acknowledged that he may not have the experience to sit on a board that would allow him the highest levels of top-secret access, but he assured deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin in newly released 2009 emails that he was talking to two professors who were “getting me up to speed on the academics behind the field.”
Fernando, who contributed to Clinton, her family’s foundation and Barack Obama, described himself as one of “Hillary’s people” and mentioned that he recently had sent an ailing Clinton flowers to wish her a speedy recovery.
The emails shed new light on how Fernando got a spot on the International Security Advisory Board. He resigned in 2011, days after his appointment and after his selection was questioned.
Clinton, now the 2016 presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, continues to face questions about whether she helped the Clinton Foundation collect millions of dollars from questionable countries and organizations when she served as the nation’s top diplomat. Her campaign and Fernando’s company, Chopper Trading, did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.
As a member of the board, Fernando was to advise Clinton on nuclear weapons and other security issues alongside nuclear scientists, former Cabinet secretaries and former lawmakers, including former Defense Secretary William Perry; Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to two presidents; and former Sen. Chuck Robb of Virginia.
In May 2009, Fernando sent an email to Abedin, a longtime aide so close to Clinton she has been described as her “second daughter,” explaining that he had met with another staffer about the board appointment and had written a letter about why he would be a valuable member.
“Everybody on that board is a top-level defense expert, yet I feel like I can add a lot to the group,” he wrote. “I have two professors from Northwestern and one from University of Chicago who are international security experts and are getting me up to speed on the academics behind the field.”
“I know we had you well into our process here,” responded Abedin, who now serves as vice chairman of Clinton’s campaign.
In June 2009, Fernando said he’d recently met with Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., who told him that when he’d traveled on Air Force One he’d noticed that the first speed-dial button had Clinton’s name on it. “That is very cool! I didn’t know that,” Abedin responded.
Abedin asked whether Fernando recently had sent Clinton flowers, as she was unsure who’d sent them. When he responded yes, she said, “So nice of u.”
In September 2009, Fernando emailed Abedin after meeting with a staffer referred to only as Tauscher – presumably Ellen Tauscher, a former congresswoman from California who was the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. He said Tauscher had told him she might be able to include him as a possible choice for the board.
“They will have their list and Hillary will have hers and at the end of the day as long as they don’t have opposition to any of Hillary’s people, they should get in,” he wrote.
“In addition to my previous experiences listed in my resume, I have been meeting with professors from Northwestern, University of Chicago and Yale for the past 6 months,” he wrote to Abedin. “I know I will be able to hold my own and be valued contributor to this board. I promise I will make the secretary look good.”
After ABC News contacted the State Department to ask about his qualifications, which included no international security background, Fernando announced that he had stepped down.
In recent weeks, emails obtained by Citizens United show the appointment perplexed the State Department’s professional staff, according to ABC News, and that dozens of State Department officials worked overtime to quickly obtain Fernando’s security clearance, according to Fox News.
In September 2012, after ABC News again questioned the State Department about Fernando’s appointment, senior adviser Heather Samuelson sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philippe Reines a response provided to ABC News explaining why he had been chosen.
Reines appeared to mock the appointment by responding to Samuelson: “Not the most compelling response I’ve ever seen since it’s such a dense topic the board resolves around. Couldn’t he have landed a spot on the President’s Physical Fitness Council?”
Fernando founded Chopper Trading, a high-frequency trading firm that was acquired by the Chicago firm DRW Trading Group in 2015. In an economic speech last year, Clinton criticized high-frequency traders. Providence, Rhode Island, sued Chopper Trading and other financial companies, charging they’d defrauded the city, which managed funds for its employees.
Since 2003, Fernando has contributed more than $650,000 to federal Democratic candidates and organizations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money. That includes Clinton’s Senate and presidential campaigns, her leadership political action committee and the group Ready for Hillary, which laid the groundwork for her second presidential run. Employees of Chopper Trading contributed $34,000 to Clinton’s presidential campaigns.
Fernando served as a voluntary fundraiser or bundler for Clinton’s first presidential campaign and later for Obama. He also gave $30,000 to a political advocacy group, WomenCount, that has indirectly helped Clinton.
He contributed between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to records released by the foundation. Between $100,000 and $250,000 was donated before his board appointment. He once traveled with former President Bill Clinton to Africa.
In July 2015, Clinton attended a fundraiser at Fernando’s home for her second presidential campaign. About 170 people each paid $2,700 to get into the event, according to the campaign. The fundraiser had multiple hosts, each of whom raised $27,000 or more.