Spotlight back on Clinton aide
Abedin, Weiner part amid another sexting scandal
WASHINGTON — Before any of former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s creepy sex tweets even came to light, his wife had attracted unwanted attention for her boss, Hillary Clinton.
Huma Abedin is a favorite target of Republicans. They accuse the Clinton aide of being a Saudi spy, a self- dealing insider, the mastermind behind a plot to hide Clinton’s email.
But the noise around Abedin was so often distorted with conspiracy theories that the public seemed to tune it out — until Weiner suddenly appeared back in the spotlight with the revelation this week of what some are calling his most disturbing tweet yet: an illicit photo sent privately to a woman in which his son was a prop. Abedin announced Monday that she and Weiner would separate. Now, Clinton’s campaign finds itself unable to duck unwanted attention drawn to Abedin, who is closer to Clinton than anyone else on her payroll.
Abedin, 40, who has been referred to as Clinton’s “second daughter,” is the gatekeeper to the Democratic nominee. Even Bill Clinton sometimes can’t get to his wife without working through Abedin, who usu- Huma Abedin, left, who has been referred to as Hillary Clinton’s “second daughter,” is the gatekeeper to the nominee. ally carries Hillary Clinton’s cellphone in her purse. Abedin’s imprimatur can be found all over Clinton’s world: on emails she sent to Clinton trying to explain how to use a fax machine, highstakes diplomatic efforts in Libya (Abedin was called to testify before the House committee on the Benghazi attacks) and the care and feeding of billionaire donors.
Yet Abedin almost never Weiner speaks publicly, meaning her work for Clinton i s opaque to voters. Operatives and pundits ascribe to her the motives that suit their own agenda. The media outlet that has most aggressively targeted her is the right-leaning website Breitbart News, which first uncovered Weiner’s sex tweets. More recently, it has taken to suggesting Abedin is spying for Saudi Arabia and working to spread Sha- ria law. Breitbart’s leader, Stephen Bannon, recently was named to run Donald Trump’s campaign.
The media attention on Abedin right now, though, is not Breitbart’s making. It is the kind of staff drama the Clinton operation had been so good at avoiding during her presidential run over the past year and a half, the kind associated with previous campaigns of both Bill and Hillary Clinton. By contrast, Clinton’s current team is disciplined, tight-lipped and dull.
Trump wasted no time pouncing after Abedin said she was separating from Weiner. Abedin’s announcement followed a New York Post story detailing a private message Weiner sent on Twitter last year, where he, while clothed, apparently tries to impress a woman with an image of his and Abedin’s toddler son sleeping alongside him — and with the outlines of Weiner’s genitals clearly visible in the photo.
“I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information,” Trump said in a statement Monday. “Who knows what he learned and whohe told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.”
Abedin’s and Weiner’s relationship has been strained since his second round of publicly revealed sex tweeting sunk his mayoral bid in 2013. They scarcely saw each other amid the rigors of the presidential campaign, during which Politico noted Abedin was frequently seen without her wedding ring. Abedin is almost always within steps of Clinton, and Clinton is almost always on the road.
But that close proximity to Clinton — paired with Abedin’s upbringing in Saudi Arabia — has fueled many conspiracy theories.
“Why aren’t we talking about Huma and her ties to the Muslim Brotherhood?” said Rep. Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin Republican, during a CNN appearance last week. “Why aren’t we talking about the fact that she was an editor for a Sharia newspaper?” That same day, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump insider, accused Abedin of being a “Saudi asset.”
Fact checkers at the Washington Post looked into the charges and found them to be “bogus.” The allegations stem from Abedin’s childhood in Saudi Arabia and an academic journal her mother publishes that Islamic scholars say is not radical.
But the Clinton camp has been unable to easily swat away some of the other charges that swirl around Abedin. She operates in the controversial nexus of Clinton’s government work and the Clinton family foundation. At one point while Clinton was secretary of state, Abedin was being paid by the government and a consulting firm founded by one of the executives at the foundation.
Abedin is asking for the media to back off. “During this difficult time, I ask for respect for our privacy,” she said in a statement Monday.
But as long as Abedin remains a vital part of the Clinton operation, her life is almost certain to remain public.