SWEET: Who is Raj Fernando, and why is the GOP attacking him?
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WASHINGTON — Recently released State Department emails have reignited a controversy over why Chicago business executive Raj Fernando, a mega-donor to the Clinton Foundation and major fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, was appointed to its International Security Advisory Board in 2011.
The State Department emails from 2011, released June 10, have made Fernando a fresh target for Republicans. He quit the board on Aug. 17, 2011.
Presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump slammed Clinton for putting Fernando on the panel — charged with providing “independent insight and advice” on national security — in a speech Wednesday.
“Hillary Clinton appointed a top donor to a national security board with top-secret access even though he had no national security credentials,” Trump said.
Fernando declined an interview request.
With the matter revived, I asked Fernando’s spokesman about his qualifications and was told he “has spent his career honing expertise in international markets, cyber security and technological innovation.
“He designed, implemented and managed some of the most sophisticated risk-management, communications, trading, monitoring and source-code security systems in the industry.”
The central issue, though, is whether Fernando’s contributions to interests associated with Bill and Hillary Clinton paved the way for a State Department appointment while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.
Fernando’s rise to elite Democratic donor ranks was fueled by his remarkable business success. The son of Sri Lankans who moved to the United States, he was raised in Oak Brook. Fernando, who turns 45 in two weeks, is a graduate of Hinsdale Central High School and Beloit College in Wisconsin.
After learning the ropes at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Fernando, a Bucktown resident, founded Chopper Trading, whose high-speed trading is conducted in domestic and international financial markets. Fernando sold the business in 2015.
Fernando amassed enough wealth to become a big contributor to Chicago charities and civic organizations, as well as Democratic campaigns and causes. He is on the board of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and, on Thursday, became a member of the board of the Chicago Council of Global Affairs. Fernando is a donor to each.
Fernando will be an Illinois super-delegate to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
Fernando was a major fund-raiser — a bundler — for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election bid, funneling $500,000 to his campaign. In March 2012, the White House invited Fernando a state dinner honoring British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Fernando hosted fund-raisers in his Chicago home for Vice President Joe Biden in September 2011 and for Clinton in July 2015.
When Bill Clinton visited Chicago Friday for a fund-raiser at Clinton’s Midwest campaign finance office, 35 E. Wacker Dr., Fernando was among those who spoke. Hillary Clinton hits Chicago on Monday.
Fernando also made sizable contributions to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s political funds for his 2011 and 2015 elections.
Through the years, Fernando has given between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, which discloses only the broad range of contributions.
Fernando supported Hillary Clinton when she first ran for president in 2008 and, as a member of Clinton’s 2016 national finance committee, is one of her top bundlers.
A conservative group, Citizens United, filed a federal lawsuit in April 2015 to force the disclosures of the e-mails about Fernando. Citizens United’s president is David Bossie, who started looking into the Clintons when Bill Clinton was president and Bossie was chief investigator for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee looking into Whitewater and other Clinton controversies.
Fernando quit shortly after his only meeting of the State Department board on July 12, 2011.
In his Aug. 17, 2011, resignation letter, he said he needed to focus on his company because of “excessive volatility in international markets.”
A day before, emails show State Department staffers — who weren’t familiar with Fernando — were raising concerns, triggered by an ABC reporter’s questions about Fernando’s qualifications and how the appointment came about.
The emails among State Department staffers showed Fernando was added to the list of appointees by Clinton’s then-chief of staff Cheryl Mills after being left off the original list — which included people with long resumes in national security.
A Clinton campaign spokesman, Nick Merrill, said: “This all originates with a right-wing group that has been attacking the Clintons since the 1990s, and this is just its latest attempt to twist the facts and manufacture wrongdoing by piecemeal leaks. This was an unpaid, volunteer advisory board and one of several foreign policy-focused organizations that he was involved with. As the State Department itself has said, the ISAB charter calls for a diverse set of experiences for its members.”