Editorial: Make a Choice, Ms. Abedin

Like many high-profile government employees, Huma Abedin has made some very powerful friends and connections. And, like so many of her colleagues, she has every right to take advantage of those contacts to find more lucrative work in the private sector.

But she can’t have it both ways.

Ms. Abedin rose to some level of fame as a trusted aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She also happens to be the long-suffering wife of virtual philanderer Anthony Weiner. While the choices she has made in her private life certainly should summon sympathy from even the hardest of hearts, her dual life as a public employee and a private consultant deserves clear-eyed skepticism.

Ms. Abedin enjoys a very enviable existence in government service. In June of last year, the State Department designated her as a “special government employee.” That allowed Ms. Abedin to accept work for private clients, something mere mortals in the State Department—and every other agency in federal government—cannot do.

Critics have wondered, rightly, why Ms. Abedin deserves such rarefied status. The federal government created special categories of employees in order to attract highly qualified experts who were not inclined to leave the private sector for the diminished salaries associated with government service. But there is no indication that Ms. Abedin possesses highly specialized skills. She helped plan Secretary Clinton’s schedule and helped with travel arrangements. At the moment, she is working on Mrs. Clinton’s transition. (Since when, by the way, do secretaries of state require a staff to make the transition to private life and/or retirement?)

Ms. Abedin may well be an indispensable member of Mrs. Clinton’s inner circle. But that hardly qualifies her as a “special government employee.” If she wants to continue to serve the public, fine. Or if she wants to cash in on the contacts she has made, that’s great, too. But it has to be one or the other.

Ms. Abedin surely is a sympathetic character and not simply because she is married to a first-class weenie. She has attracted virulent criticism from critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who have charged that she or her family are covert agents of Islamic terrorism. Those charges are reprehensible.

But those who perceive something unseemly about Ms. Abedin’s arrangement with Mrs. Clinton and the State Department are not motivated by blind prejudice. They argue that Ms. Abedin’s designation as a “special government employee” is undeserved and that her work for private clients raises the possibility of conflicts of interest.

This one really isn’t hard to resolve. Ms. Abedin simply has to make a decision: Stay in public service and work her way up the ladder in the State Department or become a sought-after consultant for private clients eager for access to Mrs. Clinton and her circle.

One or the other. But not both.