Near the end of her tenure as Secretary of State, one of Hillary Clinton’s closest aides, Philippe Reines, claimed in emails to colleagues and journalists covering the State Department that James Rosen, the 48-year-old chief Washington correspondent at Fox News, had been removed from his post at the agency over allegations of sexual harassment. In one such email, dated January 2013 and addressed to a CNN producer and another State Department staffer, Reines, then serving as a deputy assistant secretary of state, wrote, “Fox has had nobody assigned to State for the last two years after they pulled James Rosen for sexual harassment.”
Gawker was unable to verify Reines’ claims against Rosen with any of the involved parties. Nor was Gawker able to identify the complainant or their institutional affiliation. Reached by telephone in Washington, Rosen declined to comment and referred our questions to Fox’s media relations team. Irena Briganti, a spokesperson at the channel’s Manhattan headquarters, did not return messages.
Reines and his email’s recipients—Virginia Moseley, CNN’s deputy Washington bureau chief, and Caroline Adler, who oversaw the State Department’s office of strategic communications and now serves as First Lady Michelle Obama’s communications director—did not respond to requests for comment, either. In an email to Gawker, a State Department spokesperson wrote, “We decline to comment.”
Aside from Fox News’s antagonistic stance toward the Obama administration in general and Hillary Clinton in particular, there is no apparent reason that Reines might falsely claim that Rosen had been accused of sexual harassment and re-assigned. Yet the same trove of emails containing Reines’ assertion suggests there had been longstanding tensions between the two men, which apparently boiled over in September 2012, shortly after BuzzFeed reporter Michael Hastings conducted, and later published, an expletive-heavy correspondence with Reines about the State Department’s response to the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
In that exchange, after Reines told Hastings to “fuck off,” Hastings replied: “Hah—I now understand what women say about you, too! Any new complaints against you lately?”
The same documents released by the State Department show that, the day after Reines and Hastings’s exchange, Rosen emailed Reines to inquire about the slain U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, whose personal diary had been recovered by CNN at the American embassy in Benghazi. Reines forwarded the message to a BBC reporter named Nina Donaghy almost immediately, writing: “Look who popped up only hours after I’m being hit with the false sexual harassment bs that was really at him.” (Donaghy, who now works as a freelance reporter, did not return requests for comment.)
It has indeed been awhile since you covered State, at least a couple of years since you were re-assigned. I can’t recall exactly when that was, but I vividly remember why. I’ll admit that my antenna might be a little too sensitive these days given all that’s going on, but I can’t help but notice the timing of your note coming so soon after Michael Hastings posted online the unfortunate exchange he and I had—which alluded to a malicious accusation against me that you know better than anyone never happened, and is a vicious lie.
Reines concluded that it would be “inappropriate” for them to work together on the Stevens story, and referred to Rosen to a different State employee for guidance.
As government officials never tire of telling reporters, and as is certainly apt in this instance, you were not privy to the decision-making process involved when I was re-assigned from State (in late July 2009) and accordingly it would not be a safe assumption for you to assume that you know why, or “remember why” said decision was made. This would be the case whether your purported understanding, or memory, is “vivid,” dim, or otherwise.
In the same reply, Rosen wrote, “I did not have—and do not today have—the faintest idea of what Hastings was talking (or writing) about.”
The State Department began releasing Reines’ emails with reporters last year, after Gawker Media sued the agency for failing to comply with our Freedom of Information Act request for them. Structured in monthly installments, the emails disclosed thus far have been haphazardly organized by the State Department’s FOIA office, making it difficult to discern the chronology and context of certain exchanges.
So it’s unclear, based on the latest releases, whether or not Reines and Rosen exchanged any emails of substance between September 2012 and January 2013, when Reines notified Virginia Moseley and Caroline Adler about the alleged circumstances of Rosen’s re-assignment. The only indication that the two men communicated during that period of time consists of a short note from Rosen to Reines on December 16, 2012, which reads in part: “I think you’ve blown off my last three requests for information—and they have been very basic stuff.” Reines does not appear to have replied to Rosen’s message.
Taken together, Reines’s emails suggest he came to believe Rosen had been re-assigned from the State Department over allegations of sexual harassment; and that someone had later spread rumors indicating Reines, rather than Rosen, had been accused of sexual harassment. This theory largely comports with what Reines wrote in an email to Gawker last year, after we asked him what Hastings had been talking about. Reines alleged that a Fox reporter had been accused of harassment, but not identify him or her:
I don’t know what he was referring to. And given his death I’m reluctant to guess. But I think he was referencing a rumor that stemmed from State’s FOX reporter being removed from the State beat because of a sexual harassment charge against him by a colleague, and said reporter tried to blame me. Which never made sense why he thought that would work. But I guess it kinda did if you’re asking me more than two years later.
There are some discrepancies in this account. In his email to Moseley, for example, Reines implied that Rosen had been re-assigned two years prior, which would have been in or around January 2011. But according to Rosen’s September 2012 reply to Reines, Fox re-assigned him much earlier, in July 2009.
Furthermore, it’s not immediately obvious that Hastings was, in fact, alluding to rumors concerning sexual harassment. “I now understand what women say about you” could mean a lot of things. Indeed, Reines’s relationship with women had been the subject of some prior coverage. A 2011 Washington Post profile noted that, when he first arrived in Washington to work for a congresswoman in 2000, Reines actively encouraged reporters to talk about his dating life: “Begrudgingly admiring colleagues studied how he wore women down with unabashed persistence. He became a frequent tipster — often about his own exploits — to online gossips. His bravado sometimes backfired, earning him a 2007 mention on the Web site DontDateHimGirl.com.”
It’s unclear, too, what it would have meant for Rosen to be “re-assigned” from the State Department, since he continued to cover the agency and its activities after July 2009. He was even the subject of a controversial Justice Department probe that began in June 2009, after he published a story concerning North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. (That probe, which continued into 2010, eventually identified one of Rosen’s State Department sources, a government advisor named Stephen Jin-Woo Kim.) In any case, Rosen’s physical access to the State Department, or Fox’s office therein, does not seem to have been suspended. In one of his September 2012 emails to Reines, Rosen mentioned that “I am reachable today at the Fox State [Department] booth.”