State Department Clarifies Clinton Aide’s Position

Cheryl Mills unpaid ‘advisor’ during first four months at State

Cheryl Mills / AP
October 8, 2015

Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff worked as an unpaid "advisor" during her first four months at the Department of State while holding outside positions with New York University and the Clinton Foundation, department officials told the Washington Free Beacon.

The State Department initially said in June that Mills was appointed as a "Special Government Employee" from January until May of 2009, a designation that allowed her to avoid certain ethics rules and hold outside employment.

However, last week the department said that after further investigation it had found that Mills was not technically designated a special employee in 2009. Instead, she had been appointed an unpaid "expert/consultant" for her first four months with Clinton, according to officials.

A spokesperson declined to say who appointed Mills to this position, which she held until she was officially appointed "chief of staff" in May 2009.

The State Department said that this was the reason it failed to include Mills on a list of 2009 special government employees that it provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee last year.

Consultant appointees can provide advice and support to government officials, but they are barred by federal rules from taking on management duties or serving in roles that can be done by regular employees.

During Mills’ time as an "expert/consultant," she was identified as Clinton’s "Chief of Staff and Counselor" in internal memos and other documents, although a State Department spokesman said her official position was "senior advisor."

She also continued to serve as general counsel for New York University, earning a $200,000 salary and $330,167 in severance and vacation payment for the first four months of 2009, according to her financial disclosure form. Mills sat on the board of NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus—which is funded by the government of the United Arab Emirates—and on the board of the Clinton Foundation and the Center for American Progress.

A federal employment expert said there was no meaningful difference between a "special government employee" and Mills’ arrangement.

"You are technically dealing with a special government employee of some ilk," said Cheri Cannon, a partner at Tulley Rinckey who was speaking based on general expertise and had not reviewed all the documents for this particular case. "They can say she’s not. But she is, because it’s an ethics term."

Cannon said there did not appear to be anything inappropriate about the appointment. She said Mills would likely have been exempt from certain conflict-of-interest rules, and this would have been outlined in guidance provided to her in 2009 by the State Department ethics counsel.

"Some of the rules in her temporary situation are loosened or non-existent," said Cannon. "Where she would get close to a line would be giving advice on particular things that she still works on in the private sector. [For example, saying,] ‘Mrs. Clinton I think you need to come to NYU.’"

Cannon said it would have been the responsibility of the ethics counsel’s office to make sure the appointee was aware of these rules for her own legal protection. The State Department said Mills signed an ethics guidance on Jan. 22, 2009, but has yet to release it publicly.

According to State Department emails, Mills helped arrange for Clinton to speak at NYU’s May 2009 commencement ceremony, the Free Beacon first reported in July.

The university announced in March 2009 that Clinton would speak at the event, which took place on May 13 of that year. NYU officials thanked Mills in emails that were released by the State Department over the summer.

Lynne Brown, NYU’s public affairs vice president, emailed Mills on May 14, 2009, "Cheryl: Thanks for all your help and guidance on getting HRC to our Commencement."

"Clearly she was a hit!" Brown added. "Her presence and her message added luster to the event."

The State Department told the Free Beacon over the summer that Mills did not start working as Clinton’s chief of staff until May 24, 2009, but agency documents indicate that she began months earlier.

One U.S. cable published by Wikileaks recounted a February 2009 meeting in Washington between the Haitian president and Hillary Clinton.

"On the U.S. side, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson. … Special Advisor Vicki Huddleston, and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills joined the Secretary," said the cable, which was sent from Clinton’s office to the U.S. embassy in Port au Prince on Feb. 11, 2009.

Mills is also copied on over a dozen internal State Department memos vetting Bill Clinton’s paid speeches between February and May 2009. The documents, written by the State Department’s deputy legal advisor, James Thessin, refer to Mills as "Counselor and Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of State."