An email released by the State Department on Friday shows that a top Hillary Clinton aide was mostly relieved that an NBC News report which was a response to a story called "Critics blame State Department for turning a blind eye on sex abuse" wasn't "worse" when it aired on television. It took months for the State Department to suspend an organization it worked with that was singled out in the report, and it wasn't until nearly nine months later - after a host father went to prison for sexually abusing a foreign exchange student featured in the NBC News report - that it was removed from the list of sponsors. However, the State Department - under Hillary Clinton and after she left in 2013 - never apparently even publicly admitted that the sexual abuse charges had anything to do with dropping the organization, which appears to have gone defunct.
Jason Leopold - who once falsely reported that Karl Rove was indicted - noted the email in a story ("Hillary Clinton's Response to a Bank Robber in a Hillary Mask: 'Should I Be Flattered?'") for VICE News that focused on a much lighter one.
"One email dated March 15, 2012 was highly critical about NBC News coverage of a story, the content of which is unclear," Leopold reported. "But it does note that in order to rebut the story the State Department would have had to provide emails to "prove our side, which I'm sure would have to go through rigorous legal vetting."
However, the email certainly wasn't "highly critical", and was mostly pleased with the on-air report, and it only took a quick Google search to figure out which NBC News report was being reviewed by Caitlin Klevorick, who was then Senior Advisor to the Counselor and Chief of Staff at the State Department. Leopold's story left out key clues that made it easy to find such as the name of a critic, Jessica Vaughan from the Center for Immigration Studies, and that it had to do with kids and referred to a case that occurred in Montana in December of 2011. Leopold has been at the forefront of the Freedom of Information Act battles with the State Department on releasing Clinton emails, but he doesn't appear to be very critical of the top Democratic presidential candidate.
Leopold's story continues, "'This was clearly an agenda-laden job that brian Williams and kate snow didn't seem to comfortable with,' wrote Caitlin Kevorick, then a senior State Department aide [all sic]. 'It was bad. There's no question, but toria's [Victoria Nuland, State Department spokesman] tone and poise were incredibly clutch. They used a bunch of broil of S [Secretary Clinton] without saying anything to me, despite my grilling, but the broil [sic] is public footage and it never blames S [Secretary Clinton] if anything it shows her 'fix it now' mentality and that this can't be tolerated … Surprisingly the person who was the worst during the day was [NBC News reporter] Andrea Mitchell who teased the piece on her show.'"
Kevorick wrote Hillary Clinton's aide Cheryl Mills - who later helped select which emails to delete from Clinton's server, "On the most recent case they mentioned, from December/Montana, the facts we have contradict those NBC has but did not know until too late and would have had to provide emails to prove our side which I'm sure would have to go through rigorous legal vetting."
Anna Schecter reported for NBC News on March 14, 2012 ("Critics blame State Department for turning a blind eye on sex abuse"), "Despite reforms, just this past Christmas a 16-year-old boy from Germany says he did not know what to do after he was allegedly sexually abused by his host father and did not know what to do. In an interview to be broadcast tonight on Rock Center, he said he did not know about the State Department’s 24/7 hotline."
"His mother said when she spoke to the local coordinator by phone and asked her what she should do, the coordinator told her, 'It’s up to you,'" the NBC News story continued. "She quickly flew to the U.S. on her own dime to retrieve her son at her own expense. Three months later she and her son flew back to the U.S., again at their own expense, to file a police report."
In the email, Kevorick wrote, "One thing to note, none of the kids mentioned the state department or usg. Only Jessica Vaughan who is at the center for immigration studies and has long been a critic (and was a former junior [Foreign Service Officer] mentioned State with incredible disdain and explicit culpability."
Vaughan told NBC News, "Through their mismanagement of the program, they essentially are looking the other way. They’re in denial about how much of it actually goes on. I’m ashamed as an American that the government agency that’s responsible for bringing them over under the auspices of [being] about cross-cultural understanding is exercising only token oversight to protect these kids."
"The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, research organization," the CIS About page states. "Since our founding in 1985, we have pursued a single mission – providing immigration policymakers, the academic community, news media, and concerned citizens with reliable information about the social, economic, environmental, security, and fiscal consequences of legal and illegal immigration into the United States." CIS claims, "Our board, our staff, our researchers, and our contributor base are not predominantly 'liberal' or predominantly 'conservative'. Not all of the "Kudos for the Center" are from Republicans: Former Democratic Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm is quoted as saying it's "one of the best organizations working on one of America’s most important problems" and Wisconsin Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette said, "The Center is doing important work to focus attention on the important role of the current rapid U.S. population growth in dealing with the many environmental problems we face in this country."
In addition, Joaquin Otero - a former Deputy Under Secretary of Labor who was once nominated by former President Bill Clinton "to serve as the Assistant Secretary for International Labor Affairs at the Department of Labor," and donated $1,000 to the Hillary Clinton for President campaign - reportedly said, "Your analyses and other immigration reporting are excellent and I want to congratulate you and CIS for keeping this vital policy issue on the front burner."
According to her biography at the CIS website, "Jessica M. Vaughan serves as Director of Policy Studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, DC-based research institute that examines the impact of immigration on American society and educates policymakers and opinion leaders on immigration issues. She has been with the Center since 1992, and her area of expertise is immigration policy and operations, covering topics such as visa programs, immigration benefits and immigration law enforcement. Ms. Vaughan recently completed several major projects on immigration and crime, including a Department of Justice-funded project studying the use of immigration law enforcement in transnational gang suppression efforts. In addition, she is an instructor for senior law enforcement officer training seminars at Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety in Illinois."
"Prior to joining the Center, Mrs. Vaughan was a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, where she served in Belgium and Trinidad & Tobago," the biography adds.
When told about the staffer's email which politicized her criticism, Jessica Vaughan mostly blew it off, but said that it strikes her as "typical and in character." She added, "There has been no leadership-level interest in the exchange programs and their proper management. Nor any authentic concern about the participants. That is why the oversight is outsourced to the designated sponsor organizations, who - as a result - have near free rein to operate these programs."
Vaughan complained that "people in the Secretary's office would have zero idea how these programs are really run. They think it's all happy Fulbright scholars falling in love with America. It's just not an area of interest for them, regardless of crimes or other problems. Same with most members of Congress, who hear only glowing Kumbaya stories from the sponsoring organizations. No different from the au pair problems a few years back -- nothing changed until a baby was killed by a nanny who was incompetent/inexperienced."
"I suspect that some of the more reputable outfits are doing a better job of screening participants, but I'm sure there are still some bad actors operating exchanges," Vaughan said. "State will ignore it until there's another scandal. They just don't like having to take responsibility for it, they aren't trained for it, it's a placeholder job for someone."
In the 2012 email - after a series of online NBC news reports about how State Department was allegedly "'in denial' about how many high school foreign exchange students are sexually abused by their American host parents," reached a larger television audience - Kevorick happily noted, "They also continually said that the vast majority have great experiences."
However, as Schecter reported two days before the email, "Nuland said that from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's point of view even one child abused under these programs is one child too many."
"'Our standard has to be zero tolerance. So to the degree that which we still have cases reported we are not there yet. Are the reforms that we've put in place sufficient? I think we need to watch that over the next couple of months and see where it goes. But we are absolutely committed to continuing to tighten these regulations and improve this program until we get to zero.'"While the State Department aide concluded in the "bottom line" that the NBC News story was "bad", she was evidently relieved because it could "have been worse."
Another article - "State Dept: Fifty teens allegedly sexually abused or harassed by host parent last year" - published on March 15, 2012, includes the State Department responses to the NBC News investigation, which Kevorick was specifically referring to in her email to Mills.
The article says Nuland told NBC News, "The vast majority of these kids have a rich, enormously gratifying experience that lasts with them for a lifetime. That doesn't change the fact that we have to have zero tolerance for any of these cases, even one child abused is one too many. And it is our job to fix this and we will."
In actuality, Nuland's over the top quote was "these kids have a enormously, gratifying, rich, fantastic experience."
. Regarding the Montana case, while Kevorick claimed that "the facts we have contradict those NBC has but did not know until too late and would have had to provide emails to prove our side which I'm sure would have to go through rigorous legal vetting," Nuland told NBC News, "Assuming the case is as you explained it, it's absolutely unacceptable, and it's one that needs to be looked at by us, and we will do that."
On August 7, 2014, a United States District Court judge dismissed the Montana case due to jurisdiction concerns and New York contract laws. (Editor's note: I'm not linking to the ruling since it includes the alleged victim's name). But according to the ruling, the alleged German victim, "while a minor in 2011, enrolled in a foreign student exchange program here in the United States, which was run by Defendant International Student Exchange, Inc. ("ISE")" and that "on December 23, 2011, when he was sixteen years old and residing in the Preiss home as part of the exchange student program, [Defendant Theodore R] Preiss subjected Plaintiff to unwanted sexual contact. That evening, Plaintiff contacted Ashley Pulsipher ("Pulsipher"), the Area Representative assigned by ISE to supervise and monitor Plaintiff's placement with the Preiss family. Plaintiff advised Pulsipher that there were private issues that he urgently needed to discuss with her, in person, as soon as possible."
Oddly, ISE didn't contact the police, according to the judge's ruling, and waited until the following day to contact the State Department.
"Plaintiff met with Pulsipher on December 26, 2011 and reported Preiss's sexual abuse. Pulsipher immediately contacted her supervisor, Area Manager Carol Toews ("Toews"), who in turn called ISE's corporate headquarters in New York. On December 27, 2011, Toews, following instructions from ISE's New York office, contacted the Child and Family Services Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and notified them of Plaintiff's report of sexual abuse. That same day, ISE's corporate office in New York notified the United States Department of State of Plaintiff's report of sexual abuse."
"Plaintiff left Montana to return to Germany on December 27, 2011," the judge added. "The District Attorney's Office for Gallatin County, Montana declined to prosecute Preiss."
On March 14, 2012, the AP reported, "Despite dozens of allegations of neglect and sexual abuse over the years, the U.S. State Department has scrapped a plan to require FBI-based fingerprint searches for people hosting foreign high school exchange students, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. The federal agency in recent years considered but dropped a plan to require FBI background checks similar to what's used by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts because it wasn't "feasible," according to the State Department documents."
"Danielle Grijalalva, executive director of the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, said she has found dozens of cases of sexual abuse over the years and forwarded the complaints to the State Department," the AP article noted. "Yet the agency has done little to investigate them, she said."
Grijalalva complained to the AP, "The State Department is watching exchange agencies like the Catholic Church watched its (pedophile) priests."
According to California attorney Andrea Leavitt - who represented four exchange students sexually abused in Arkansas, two of which who were interviewed in the NBC News report - told the AP, ""Most often we see the inclination by the foreign exchange sponsoring agency, camps, schools and churches is to bury it and discredit the kid. The cover-ups often result in more victims and escalation in the nature and severity of the abuse by the perpetrator. There is a huge, glaring, gaping hole in the regulations in what must be done when there's an allegation of child abuse.
The AP story added, "Allegations of abuse aren't usually reported immediately to law enforcement or child protective services, she said."
"Leavitt would like to see a federal law that requires officials, employees and agents of entities that are licensed by the government or receive financial benefits from the government to report an allegation to law enforcement before running it up the company's chain of command.In December of 2014, ABC Fox Montana reported, "A German exchange student claims his Belgrade host parent sexually abused him...The student filed the suit in Montana federal courts against International Student Exchange (ISE), one of the world's largest exchange companies, saying the company should be held responsible for placing him with a Belgrade host parent who later sexually abused him in 2011."
There should be a mandatory jail sentence and no plea bargains when people don't first report the matter to law enforcement by email or fax within 24 hours of hearing an allegation, she said.
'There's too much witness tampering, too much wagon circling by the entities to protect them from liability and penalties over the protection and best interests of the victims,' she said."
"Attorneys for the host father say the student fabricated these claims because he was unhappy in Montana and wanted to return to Germany," the article added. "The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $6 million."
According to a Montana court docket, Preiss and the teenage boy apparently agreed to a settlement in June. On June 11, the judge announced that the "jury trial set for March 7, 2016, is VACATED."
In July, a judge dismissed the case against ISE, for similar reasons cited in New York: jurisdiction and contract issues. (Editor's note: Again, I'm not directly linking to the court document since it contains the alleged victim's name). There are more details provided in the ruling, the alleged victim claimed the "unwanted sexual contact" included "touching his intimate body parts under the guise of 'tickling'" and "performing oral sex on him."
It's unclear why the Montana District Attorney's office didn't press charges against host parent Theodore R. Preiss, but I'm hoping to get more information from the alleged victim's attorney. Since the State Department was involved - to some respect - it's also unclear why they weren't named in any of the lawsuits.
There are three videos in total at the last NBC News link. Viewers should be warned that watching Kate Snow is extremely disturbing, since she smiles inappropriately even when talking to teenagers who claimed to be sexual abuse victims. Her questions to Nuland are complete softballs, and even though the mother of the Montana teen specifically said none of the material provided to families before sending their kids to America mention sexual abuse, Snow does a disservice to Kevorick's hard work by not even asking the State Department to respond to that claim.
It took four months before the State Department appears to have finally taken any other significant action about the program, even though Hillary Clinton said that there should be "zero tolerance" for child abuse.
A July 23, 2012 Associated Press report claimed, "An organization that has brought thousands of foreign exchange students to the United States is telling its staff and host families that it will fight a State Department decision to suspend the company from the popular visa program, according to an email obtained by The Associated Press...The State Department suspended PIE from the program last week for undisclosed rule violations."
However, it was unclear at the time if that suspension had anything to do with the sex abuse claims, since the AP story added, "The State Department has not said exactly why PIE was suspended from the program. The company has had problems in recent years. The State Department put it on probation last year, reduced the number of students it could sponsor by 15 percent and ordered it to improve program administration."
On September 7, 2012, Anna Schecter reported, "The State Department has punished a student exchange organization in the wake of a Rock Center probe which examined cases of sexual abuse of high school foreign exchange students".
"San Diego-based Pacific Intercultural Exchange (P.I.E), one of the organizations highlighted in the March 14 report, was banned from participating in the State Department program," Schecter wrote. "As reported by Rock Center, P.I.E. placed a 16-year-old German exchange student in the home of a single host father, 51-year-old Craig Ley, who repeatedly sexually abused the student in his Oregon home over the course of the 2009 academic school year."
But an unnamed State Department official still pushed "the vast majority have great experiences" angle.
Shecter's September 7, 2012 report continued, "Fifty high school foreign exchange students reported being sexually abused or harassed by a host parent during the 2010-2011 school year alone, according to data released by the State Department in response to the March Rock Center report. A State Department official said this is a small percentage of the 25,000 foreign high-school students who come to America on special visas each year."
"Rock Center interviewed two students who were sexually abused by the same host father," Schecter noted. "Educational Resource Development Trust (E.R.D.T.) placed the second student in the home of the perpetrator in 2005 even after the first student had alerted the organization about the host father’s inappropriate conduct the year before. The students filed suit in 2010 and E.R.D.T. settled for an undisclosed amount without admitting liability. E.R.D.T. was never sanctioned by the State Department and is still operating."
The website for the Pacific Intercultural Exchange at www.pieusa.org is no longer active, and it appears that it stopped updating in August of 2012. A July 20, 2012 message (archive link) stated, "We are heartbroken by the Department of State's decision to temporarily suspend Pacific Intercultural Exchange's (P.I.E.) operation during the height of the 2012-2013 academic year placement cycle. Since our founding in 1975, P.I.E. has provided a positive, meaningful and safe exchange experience for more than 20,000 secondary school participants. We remain committed to offering these culturally enriching programs well into the future. Because the suspension directly relates to a civil suit that is currently in litigation, we cannot provide detail at this time. We can say that the safety of all our participants is and always has been P.I.E.'s highest priority. During the temporary suspension, we are working with our partner programs and government officials to ensure that no inbound students are adversely affected. In addition, we are preparing a formal response to the Department of State contesting the suspension, and we will provide more information when we are able."
A video of then Secretary Clinton was featured at the P.I.E. website, and can still be viewed YouTube.
In October of 2012, one of the host fathers agreed to a a settlement with an abused teenager featured in the NBC News report. Emily E. Smith at the Oregonian reported, "A German exchange student reached a settlement Wednesday in his lawsuit against the Beaverton host father who sexually abused him and the exchange program that matched them. The teen sued his former host father, Craig Ley, for $2 million. Ley is now serving a prison sentence for sexually abusing the then-16-year-old exchange student when the teen attended Beaverton High School and lived with him during the 2009-10 school year."
The story added, "The suit also sought $4 million from Pacific Intercultural Exchange, the San Diego-based exchange program that continued using Ley as a host father even after his 2004 felony mail fraud conviction. PIE reached a confidential settlement Wednesday with the teen, who is now 19. Also, Ley resolved the case against him by agreeing to pay $100,000 to child abuse assessment center CARES Northwest. As part of the agreement, if Ley does not fulfill the payment within 10 years, the teen may seize the money."
But it wasn't until late November of 2012, that the State Department took final action against P.I.E.
"An organization has lost its government designation to bring foreign exchange students to the United States after facing allegations of mismanagement and lax oversight that included students being placed in homes where they were sexually abused," Holbrook Mohr reported for the Associated Press on November 30, 2012. "State Department spokeswoman Susan Pittman told The Associated Press on Friday that Pacific Intercultural Exchange, or PIE, was removed Wednesday from the department’s list of official sponsors."
However, Mohr added, "State Department officials haven’t said exactly what problems led to PIE’s removal, but documents and emails obtained by AP in July showed allegations of serious problems, including sexual abuse by host fathers."
This is the full email:
"By the time the piece ran pretty much everything was already posted in stories on the website. This was clearly an agenda-laden job that brian Williams and kate snow didn't seem to comfortable with. It was bad. There's no question, but toria's tone and poise were incredibly clutch. On the most recent case they mentioned, from December/Montana, the facts we have contradict those NBC has but did not know until too late and would have had to provide emails to prove our side which I'm sure would have to go through rigorous legal vetting. One thing to note, none of the kids mentioned the state department or usg. Only Jessica Vaughan who is at the center for immigration studies and has long been a critic (and was a former junior FSO) mentioned State with incredible disdain and explicit culpability. They used a bunch of broil of S without saying anything to me, despite my grilling, but the broil is public footage and it never blames S if anything it shows her 'fix it now' mentality and that this can't be tolerated. They also continually said that the vast majority have great experiences. Both Brian and Kate said that in the live follow-up on the piece. Surprisingly the person who was the worst during the day was Andrea Mitchell who teased the piece on her show. And again, this was only about the private sector exchanges not the ones that are usg-funded.In his VICE article, Leopold also didn't note Klevorick - like longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin - was given "special government employee" status so that she could work for the State Department and Clinton Foundation at the same time.
So, was it bad? Yes
Could it have been worse?
And the show literally went from Toria sayng zero tolerance and the talk back in the studio to a story about the gifts office and the grill obama gave Cameron..."
"Klevorick was one of several Clinton aides who was granted a "special government employee" status that allowed her to collect paychecks from a private company and the State Department at the same time, according to Pro Publica," Sarah Westwood reported for Washington Examiner in July.
Westwood added, "Klevorick worked both as a consultant for the Clinton Foundation and in Mills' office that year, according to her professional biography."
(Editor's Note: Jason Leopold and I have a long history going back over a decade. After once contacting me to praise me for a story I did on a plagiarist - which was strange, since he had previously lost reporting jobs for alleged plagiarism - Leopold later turned against me, and used a sock to spread outrageous lies about me a few years ago. After I discovered a few of his stories for RAW STORY - before I was promoted to Executive Editor - were full of misinformation, we stopped publishing his work.)