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On Saturday afternoon, Nov. 3, 2012, a Clinton Foundation staffer emailed a tempting offer to Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's key aide at the State Department.
"Are you coming to [Little Rock, Arkansas]?" he asked. "We have donors flying privately on Friday afternoon if u want a ride."
Abedin, apparently, said yes. The next Monday, from her State Department email account, she emailed her full name and date of birth to the staffer, who replied: "Is your personal email working yet?"
By Wednesday, it was all set. The Clinton Foundation staffer, Dennis Cheng, emailed Abedin to follow up, copying someone who apparently had access to the private aircraft.
Cheng emailed Abedin at 11 a.m. "Huma, please meet Michel Pratte, who has graciously offered to give you a lift to Little Rock on Friday. I'll let the two of you take it from here!" The email was disclosed Tuesday afternoon by the conservative group Citizen's United, which is engaged in legal action with the State Department over access to Clinton-era records.
Accepting private jet flights is not standard practice for government employees in Washington. The episode underscores the way the Clinton Foundation donors and State Department employees interacted under Secretary of State Clinton — often to their mutual benefit.
State Department ethics policy allowed Abedin to accept the travel.
"The State Department did not pay for or reimburse Ms. Abedin for this travel, which we understand she accepted in her personal capacity and not in the course of performing work related to her official duties as a Department employee," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner, in a statement to CNBC.
"Federal employees, including [Special Government Employees], are permitted to engage in outside personal activities, including outside employment or business activities, and as a general matter may receive gifts or reimbursements related to these outside activities. All federal employees are subject to federal ethics laws and regulations, including rules pertaining to gifts and conflicts of interest."
Abedin was a so called "Special Government Employee" while at the State Department, working simultaneously for the State Department and an outside entity.
To set up the private flight, Cheng was leaning on deep Clinton family connections: Politico reported in 2015 that Michel Pratte is married to Clinton Foundation partner and fashion designer Tanya Taylor, a Hillary Clinton supporter. Pratte and Taylor traveled with Bill and Chelsea Clinton on a nine-day trip to Africa in 2015. Additionally, Glamour magazine reported that Taylor has worked with the Clinton Foundation on a coffee project in Haiti.
Dennis Cheng is a key figure in the big money orbit of Hillary Clinton. He served as New York finance director for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, and then became deputy chief of protocol at the State Department in 2009. Later, he worked at the Clinton Foundation. Today, he is the finance director — meaning chief fundraiser — for Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the private air travel.