Emails from Hillary Clinton’s days as U.S. secretary of state show Sen. Bob Corker in 2012 pushed the state department to resolve a visa problem for a Nashville-based company with strong political connections, according to The Tennessean.
Corker, R-Tenn., was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he called Clinton about visas being denied to foreign students seeking summer work at Southwestern Advantage, which does door-to-door sales.
Corker and Clinton spoke by phone on May 29, 2012, and the next morning, Clinton emailed her staff with the resolution.
“I believe we have decided to issue visas to this year’s students and then make a decision going forward that gives ample notice to everyone,” Clinton wrote. “If that is correct, please be sure Corker hears from us today.”
Soon after, instructions went out reaffirming that Southwestern Advantage was an authorized employer in the Summer Work Travel program and that “Sen. Corker was apprised of this outcome,” according to an email sent to Clinton on May 31.
The State Department emails mentioning Corker and the Tennessee company are among thousands being released over several months in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit related to Clinton’s use of a private email address and server while she was secretary of state. The emails provide a rare window into Clinton’s daily work life and into what happened when a member of Congress contacted her with a concern.
Southwestern Advantage, part of the Southwestern conglomerate of affiliated companies, has ties to prominent GOP figures in the state. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, worked there early in her career. Longtime national Republican fundraiser Ted Welch, who died last year, was a former executive vice president of Southwestern Publishing, which later became Southwestern Advantage.
In 2011 alone, employees of Southwestern and its affiliated companies donated more than $30,000 to Corker’s (2012) re-election campaign.
…Other officials who contacted the State Department about the rule were Blackburn (who is listed among the company’s “famous alumni”), Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Gov. Bill Haslam.
…A spokeswoman for Corker said one of his office’s main responsibilities is to help Tennesseans resolve issues with federal government agencies.
“In this particular instance, a Tennessee company needed help navigating massive federal bureaucracy,” said spokeswoman Micah Johnson. “Our focus was to ensure that the federal rules and regulations in place were fairly applied and that the company’s inquiry was dealt with in a timely, appropriate manner.”
Johnson said the campaign donations played no role in the senator’s efforts to help the company.
Blackburn worked for Southwestern during and after college, and said the State Department was pushing a “liberal worldview” by requiring a “guaranteed outcome” for participants.
“I was happy to weigh in with the State Department over a proposed bureaucratic regulation that would have harmed a program that teaches young people how to run their own business and make it profitable,” Blackburn said.
…A spokesman for Alexander said the campaign donations from Southwestern employees played no role in the senator’s decision to contact the State Department.
“Sen. Alexander and his staff help hundreds of Tennessee businesses and thousands of Tennesseans every year to navigate through what can often be dizzying, frustrating federal red tape in securing visas, getting Social Security checks, and making sure veterans receive their benefits, among many other issues,” spokesman Jim Jeffries said.