Huma Abedin: Were her consulting jobs proper? Eight questions about her work.

Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner and a longtime aide of Hillary Clinton, took three consulting jobs while she was still a part-time employee with the State Department. At least one congressional leader is pressing for more information.

John Minchillo/AP/File
Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner and a longtime aide of Hillary Clinton, speaks during a news conference July 23, 2013, in New York. Weiner's sexting scandal may have cooled down for now, but Abedin is facing a growing chorus of critics of her own.

Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal may have cooled down for now, but his wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide and confidante of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is facing a growing chorus of critics of her own.

When Ms. Abedin was still a part-time employee with the State Department, she also had three consulting jobs. Each of these jobs was closely connected with the Clintons, including the Clinton Foundation, which itself is now confronted with questions about financial dealings.

Abedin has not given a full account of the consulting work, saying she is not required to do so. But media organizations are scrutinizing her roles, and at least one congressional leader is pressing for more information.

Here is a closer look at what’s happened, explaining some of the basics.

What is Abedin’s recent employment history?

 Beginning in January 2009, Abedin worked as a deputy chief of staff for Secretary Clinton – serving as an adviser to the secretary and supervisor of her schedule and travel.

But following the birth of her son and a maternity leave, a quiet change took place in Abedin’s employment status. In June 2012, Abedin was reclassified as a “special government employee,” and she began working as a part-time senior adviser from her home in New York.

During this time, Abedin continued to serve as an adviser to Clinton and helped plan her schedule and travel, but Abedin was not officially a deputy chief of staff – even though news reports gave her that title.

The reclassification, meanwhile, allowed Abedin to bypass conflict-of-interest restrictions for federal employees – restrictions that are in place to ensure that government workers do not bring an outside financial stake to bear in their federal dealings. With the bypass, she could work as a consultant, even while still being paid by the State Department.

Abedin took on three consulting roles. The Clinton Foundation hired her as a paid consultant, as did Teneo Holdings, a New York-based strategic planning and financial services firm that was cofounded by Doug Band, former chief adviser to former President Clinton. Abedin also became a paid personal assistant to Mrs. Clinton (in addition to being Clinton’s government-paid senior adviser).

How much did she earn in these roles?

In May, Mr. Weiner and Abedin released their 2012 tax returns, which showed the couple made more than $490,000. The return indicated that Abedin earned $135,000 in her work for the State Department, but it did not specify what she made for her consulting.

What is a special government employee?

Federal law has carved out a “special government employee” (SGE) category for someone who works no more than 130 days a year for the government. Congress created the category in 1962 when it felt the need to relax certain conflict-of-interest rules for temporary advisers and consultants. The problem had been that many experts, to avoid conflicts, had to shut down their private practices just to provide a temporary government service – something many could not, or would not, do.

So Congress exempted these special employees from certain laws restricting outside income. However, SGEs who both work more than 60 of the 130 days permitted and make above a certain threshold must file a public financial disclosure report.

Was Abedin required to disclose her consulting income?

State Department officials and aides to Mrs. Clinton say no.

According to federal law, the financial threshold is attained if an employee makes more than the top level of the “general schedule” pay scales for federal workers. The State Department retained Abedin at precisely the maximum salary below the threshold.

She was compensated at an hourly rate roughly equal to a $167,000 annual salary – in technical terms, a GS 15/10 rate in New York.

Why was Abedin’s employment status changed?

After the birth of her son in December 2011, Abedin said she wanted to remain in New York with her family – instead of working in Washington and traveling regularly with Clinton. This was just months after Weiner resigned from Congress after his first sexting scandal.

The State Department accommodated Abedin’s wish for the last eight months of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State. Both women resigned from the State Department in February 2013.

Is there something wrong with Abedin having consulting jobs on the side?

Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has led an inquiry into Abedin’s private consulting while working for the State Department. He’s zeroed in on her connections to Teneo – a company that helps clients create political and investment strategies, among other things. Abedin may have been conducting “political intelligence” for the benefit of her Teneo clients, Senator Grassley has asserted.

“This raises important questions about whether her dual role was adequately disclosed to government officials who may have provided her information without realizing that she was being paid by private investors to gather information,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the State Department, also requesting information about Abedin’s employment. He wrote a similar letter to Abedin and requested her employment records, including all her consulting contracts.

“I am concerned that the ‘special government employee’ designation blurs the line between public and private sector employees,” he wrote to her.  

Abedin responded, answering some of Grassley’s questions, but providing no documents. About Teneo, she said, “I ... was not asked, nor did I provide, insights about the Department, my work with the Secretary, or any government information to which I may have had access.”

Grassley and The New York Times have both raised questions about what qualifies a person for special employee status, requesting the State Department to provide other examples of how it uses such employees. The agency demurred, citing employee privacy.

Are there further details about the consulting work Abedin has done?

In her response to Grassley, Abedin included some information. She said her role as personal assistant to Mrs. Clinton was to help the former secretary transition from public service. Likewise, she said that at the Clinton Foundation, she was to “assess the Foundation’s ongoing programs and structure in planning for the Secretary’s post-State philanthropic activities.”

At Teneo, she said she provided strategic advice and consulting services to the management team and helped organize “a major annual firm event.”

What is known about her current work?

Abedin currently works for Mrs. Clinton in her transition office. Various media outlets described her as taking a leave as her husband’s sexting scandal burgeoned, but subsequent reports have clarified that she has simply taken an extended vacation – which was apparently planned to coincide with Weiner’s campaign for New York mayor.

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