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Hillary Clinton Was Urged to Lobby for Tony Blair's Bid for European President, Emails Show

Sidney Blumenthal asked Clinton to influence Angela Merkel in Blair's 2009 European President bid.

by Ben Bryant
Jul 1 2015, 8:00pm

Gerry Penny/EPA

Hilary Clinton's informal adviser urged the then-US secretary of state to help Tony Blair in his 2009 bid to become European President, newly disclosed emails show.

The advisor, Sidney Blumenthal, was not employed by the State Department when he urged Clinton to lobby German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Blair's behalf, according to emails released by the US State Department under a federal court order in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by VICE News.

Merkel was a key swing voter in the election of the first European Council president, and a highly influential figure in the European Union. A public endorsement of the former UK prime minister's candidacy may well have secured his promotion to the role of president.

"Jonathan Powell [Tony Blair's Chief of Staff] tells me that remarks about Tony would be appreciated but that what would really be significant will be your conversation with Merkel," Blumenthal wrote on October 25.

Two days later, he added: "Tony is somewhat downcast on his chances. (He met with Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post yesterday; his mood was described to me.) The Tories have ramped up their campaign against him — not only do they not want him but they also do not want an effective EU president."

Again urging Clinton to speak to Blair, Blumenthal wrote: "Jonathan Powell is less gloomy than Tony, thinks everything is still in play, which is why your part in this may yet be important."

Related: 3,000 pages of Hilary Clinton's emails were just released - many heavily redacted

It is not clear from the emails whether Clinton fulfilled the request. If Clinton did make the pitch to Merkel, however, it is unlikely that her lobbying was successful at influencing the secret ballot.

Merkel, although never publicly dismissive of Blair, was said to be "not terribly enthusiastic" about him. She reportedly sought the promotion of a center-right politician more closely aligned with her own Christian Democratic Union party.

Nikolas Sarkozy, the French president at the time, said that the UK's decision not to join the Euro currency and the Schengen [free travel area in the EU] damaged Blair's chances at the presidency. His strongest public endorsement came from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Ultimately, Belgium Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy — a Christian Democrat — was appointed as first president of the European Council.

The European Council has no legislative power, instead providing strategic direction to the European Union. The council president has a role similar to a head of state, in contrast with the president of the European Commission, whose role is loosely analogous to that of a prime minister.

Blumenthal also wrote at length of his fears of the decline of the so-called US-British "special relationship," urging Clinton to build bridges with then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"Consensus across the board in Britain — center, right, left — is that the Atlantic alliance, the special relationship, the historic bond since World War II, is shattered," Blumenthal wrote. "There is no dissenting voice, not one, and there are no illusions. Opinion is unanimous. The bottom line is that the Obama administration's denigration of the UK is seen as the summation of the Bush era."

Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant

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