Hillary Clinton's chief of staff at the State Department, Cheryl Mills, took a secretive trip to New York City to interview candidates for a position at the Clinton Foundation, CNN reported on Thursday.
"On June 19, 2012, Cheryl Mills, then the chief of staff for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, boarded an Amtrak Acela train in Washington's Union Station bound for New York. What she did, who she met with, and why has remained a mystery, even to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee until now," CNN reporter Drew Griffin said. "For the last seven months, Senate investigators have been trying to find out what Mills was up to and for seven months the U.S. Department of State has refused to answer."
"Now CNN learned a potential reason why. Cheryl Mills, then a U.S. government employee and Secretary of State Clinton's chief of staff, was in New York working on behalf of the Clinton Foundation," Griffin said.
"A source close to the situation confirms to CNN [that] Mills was interviewing two people for the leadership role of the foundation. Interviews took place inside the Park Avenue executive headhunting offices of [Russell Reynolds Associates]. Mills would interview top level executives at Walmart and the drug company Pfizer. Both companies, huge donors to the Clinton Foundation and partners with the Clinton Global Initiative."
Griffin then addressed the ethical questions raised by Mills’s trip.
"Was Mills’s role in violation of government ethics rules, did she have permission from the U.S. State Department, did State even know the trip was taking place? CNN has asked the U.S. State Department all of these questions."
"This was the response: federal employees are permitted to engage in outside personal activities within the scope of the federal ethics rules," Griffin said. "All federal employees are subject to federal ethics laws and regulations including rules pertaining to conflicts of interest."
Scott Amey, who works for the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said Congress and the Senate Judiciary Committee have a right to know what Mills was up to.
"Congress has a right to ask for any information that it wants to from the executive branch of government to keep track of them, and the government should be turning that information over, and when you have a break down in that system, we have a break down in our democracy," Amey said.
Mills has been a top aide to the Clintons for years. Mills defended Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, was Hillary Clinton's top legal adviser during her 2008 presidential campaign, and sat on the Clinton Foundation's board before becoming Clinton's chief of staff.
A statement from Brian Fallon, a Clinton campaign spokesman, called claims of conflict of interest "absurd," and claimed that Mills had volunteered her time.
CNN host Jake Tapper also reported that the FBI and Justice Department considered investigating the Clinton Foundation for corruption, but did not initiate an investigation due to concerns it would be politically motivated.