This election is officially Donald v. Hillary. What’s next?
There is no evidence that Hillary Clinton or her top aides completed ethics training when they started at the State Department as required by federal law.
State Department records show only three of nine top Clinton aides took the mandated training for new employees. Records also suggest that none of seven top aides required to take subsequent annual training completed it.
No records indicate whether Clinton herself took any training.
Many of the aides still work for Clinton on her presidential campaign or are advising her in her bid for the White House against Republican Donald Trump in November.
The Secretary of State is responsible for establishing, maintaining, and carrying out the Department’s ethics and financial disclosure programs.
Foreign Affairs Manual
Clinton’s campaign did not respond to questions about whether she and her aides completed training.
Despite releasing the documents, State Department officials said the Privacy Act prevents them from confirming whether employees completed training. They say the lack of records does not necessarily mean employees did not take the training, just that the department failed to keep track.
“We would caution against drawing any conclusions simply from the absence of documentation provided in response to a FOIA request,” said Elizabeth Trudeau, State Department director of press relations.
Government watchdog groups say Clinton should have been more concerned about the detailed training, particularly given that she had already run for president before she became secretary of state and is married to a former president who started a foundation with ties around the globe. The failure of the Clinton State Department to keep accurate records indicates that it was not a priority, they say.
“Given the nature of the Clinton Foundation and questions raised about the donors to the foundation, one would think it would be a priority at the State Department,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, a government watchdog group which has called on Clinton and the foundation to commission an independent review of large donations.
Just last week, a new batch of emails raised additional questions about ties between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation as they indicated foundation officials tried to secure special treatment at the department for a donor and an associate. The campaign says Clinton did not take any actions as secretary of state because of donations.
It’s called pay for play. And some of these were really, really bad and illegal. If it’s true, it’s illegal. You’re paying and you’re getting things.
Republican Donald Trump
The Office of Government Ethics criticized the Clinton State Department in late 2012 for a lack of compliance with annual ethics training that is supposed to outline department standards and principles, conflict of interest laws and financial disclosure forms.
In 2011, 70 percent of presidentialy appointed employees and 50 percent of other employees failed to complete annual ethics training at the State Department, according to the Office of Government Ethics.
Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, said politicians and their aides often have a blind spot when it comes to ethical behavior because they are convinced their motivations are altruistic. “This doesn’t seem to be taken seriously,” she said. “It’s not surprising in the least.”
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Following the report, as Clinton stepped down as the nation’s top diplomat, the department instituted online annual training, allowing better record keeping, and further emphasized the importance of ethics training and expanded training outreach, Trudeau said.
The RNC requested any documents relating to attendance, completion or waiver of initial and annual ethics training. It received a variety of records, including forms that show who completed new employee training individually.
There are no records to indicate whether Clinton or the following employees took any training: Cheryl Mills, chief of staff; Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff; Anne Marie Slaughter, director of policy planning; Caitlin Klevorick, special assistant, counselor to the department; Jake Sullivan; deputy chief of staff; and Kris Bladerston, special representative for global partnerships.
Records show three aides – Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary; Philippe Reines, deputy assistant secretary; and Dennis Cheng, deputy chief of protocol – completed new employee training. But they do not show whether Reines and Cheng took annual training. It’s unclear whether Shapiro or Klevorick were required to take annual training.
Regrettably, these various training methods were not necessarily documented in any one place, if at all. The difficulty in documenting who received ethics information each year was one of the reasons for moving to the new online course.
Elizabeth Trudeau, State Department director of press relations
There were signs that State Department officials were aware of those taking the training.
In a Jan. 17, 2013 email, State Department official Angela Jordan informed Abedin that she had not completed training for 2012 and must take an online class by the end of the month since it was required by federal regulation.
Two days later, Abedin replied, confusing the request with one for her financial disclosure form. Later, when told again about the training, she responded. “Okay, wasn’t aware. Will go online.”
“The State Department’s own regulations say the responsibility for carrying out the agency’s ethics program rests with the secretary, and by all accounts, it was never a priority for Hillary Clinton,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said.
“The complete absence of records showing Clinton and her top aides completed annual ethics trainings required by federal law is par for the course for her tenure as secretary of state, where the rules didn’t seem to apply and pay-to-play was the name of the game.”
Federal code requires agencies to provide training – which at minimum consists of an hour to study ethics materials – to new employees within 90 days of starting work, according to the Office of Government Ethics.
Employees who file financial disclosure forms – those appointed by the president, political appointees and other senior staff – are required to receive annual training by a qualified instructor for at least an hour, according to the Office of Government Ethics. Those requirements are reiterated in the State Department manual for new employees.
New State employees often take a course called Ethics Orientation for New Employees, but can receive training in other ways, Trudeau said.
Annual training for more than 5,400 employees is generally conducted through videos that can be viewed online or at scheduled times in the department auditorium. Senior officials, including the secretary of state, often receive in-person briefings in-person.
The structure of the ethics program does not allow for its effective administration. While improvements have been made, more are needed. OGE is concerned about the lack of compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements in the areas of financial disclosure, annual training, and ethics agreements.
Office of Government Ethics on the State Department
Federal agencies and departments vary greatly on compliance, according to Office of Government Ethics reports. All required employees at the Department of Education were trained in 2013, while only 10 percent failed to be trained at the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2012. The Department of Interior, however, had numbers similar to State’s with an estimates 60 to 64 percent failing to complete annual training in 2015.
Despite saying they did not have accurate records, State Department officials acknowledge that some statistics are available about annual training and are reported to the Office of Government Ethics.
“The numbers reported to OGE paint an overall picture, but it’s not possible at this point to drill down and determine whether particular individuals received annual training in a given year,” said a State Department official with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak publicly as a matter of practice.
Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, said he’s not surprised by the numbers of employees who do not take ethics training, describing it as a “check the box routine” across much of federal government.
“Ethics training is not as robust as it should be,” he said. “But we need ethics laws and training to ensure we have an open and accessible government.”