By Katie Bo Williams - 09-02-16 11:38 AM EDT
The Clinton campaign is pushing back hard on allegations that emails released Thursday by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch show impropriety by Hillary Clinton's State Department.
The emails show Clinton Foundation executive Doug Band requesting a diplomatic passport for himself and two others who are reported to be a pair of aides to former President Bill Clinton.
Judicial Watch headlined the release of the pages as "Bill Clinton/Doug Band Sought State Department Favors for Foundation Supporters."
But the request for the diplomatic passports - which was never granted, according to multiple reports - dealt with Mr. Clinton's 2009 humanitarian mission to North Korea that led to the release of two captive American journalists, campaign officials say.
"Judicial Watch is now attacking State Department officials and the 42nd President of the United States for rescuing two American journalists from North Korea," said Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin. "This is a new low even for this right-wing organization that has been going after the Clintons since the 1990s."
Two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were arrested near the Chinese border in spring of 2009 while filming a documentary on human trafficking.
Bill Clinton in early August of that year traveled to North Korea, where he spoke privately to leader Kim Jong Il for three hours. Following the meeting, Kim pardoned Ling and Lee, who returned to the U.S. with Clinton.
The trip was kept secret at the time, but the Obama administration later acknowledged that it had been aware of the mission. The trip been both celebrated as a diplomatic success and blasted as an expression of American weakness.
Because the U.S. does not recognize North Korea diplomatically, the planning for the visit occurred through private channels, with Band organizing flights to and from the Hermit Kingdom on the planes of Clinton Foundation donors, according to the Post.
The emails show an exchange between longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin and State Department scheduler Lona Valmoro arranging a meeting between the then-secretary of State and Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris at a State Department dinner in late July of 2009.
"[Bill Clinton] wants to be sure [Hillary Clinton] sees Andrew Liveris, ceo of dow tomorrow night. Apparently he is head of us china business council. Is he definitely going to be there?" Abedin wrote to Valmoro.
Valmoro arranged a "brief pull aside on arrival," according to the emails.
A Dow Chemical spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that the meeting took place and that it involved lending a company plane to Bill Clinton for the rescue mission.
Dow Chemical has given between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation. Critics of the Clintons seized on the connection Thursday to accuse Hillary Clinton of running a "pay-for-play" operation while secretary of State.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton appeared unmoved by the news that the emails were part of the planning for the rescue mission.
"If that's true, it's further indication that the State Department was outsourcing the foreign policy of the United States to the Clinton Foundation," he told The Washington Post. "It suggests that the Foundation and its donors were part of the bench the State Department went to on sensitive issues abroad."
"We're trying to figure out where the Foundation ended and the State Department began," Fitton told the Post. "That's why Mrs. Clinton promised to keep the Foundation out of government business and vice versa."
A series of press reports and emails released by Judicial Watch last month have drawn attention to the relationship between the Clinton family nonprofit and the State Department during Clinton's time in office.
Independent watchdogs say some of the emails raise serious conflict-of-interest concerns. Hillary Clinton is no longer involved directly in running the foundation, and Bill Clinton has said he will step down from the board should his wife be elected president in November.
Hillary Clinton has defended the integrity of her practices.
"I know there is a lot of smoke, and there is no fire," she said.
"My work as secretary of State was not influenced by any outside forces. I made policy decisions based on what I thought was right," Clinton said in a phone interview with CNN last week.