Almost a decade ago, Rodriguez quit his job in a corporate law firm and, leaping at the chance to enter public service, answered an ad for an unpaid fellowship in the office of then-Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.). A few months later, the senator started paying Rodriguez, and when he left to run for governor in 2005, Rodriguez moved into Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s fold. He served first as her chief counsel and later added the legislative director title.
Rodriguez handled some of Clinton’s more sensitive matters, including the quandary of how to resign. On Jan. 21, 2009, once the Senate approved her nomination to be secretary of state, Clinton was eager to attend Obama’s first meeting with his national security team. So she hastily arranged to take her oath. A federal judge was summoned. A Bible was procured.
But first, Clinton had to give up her Senate seat.
“Apparently it’s not that simple,” recalled Philippe Reines, Clinton’s longtime spokesman. “Miguel had to figure it out. . . . He sat in a desk right outside her inner office working it. He was writing letters on the fly, and they had to be hand-delivered.”
Clinton and other aides grew anxious, Reines said, but Rodriguez was “cool as a cucumber.” He completed Clinton’s resignation, and she made it to the White House meeting, only a little late.
Rodriguez followed Clinton to the State Department, where he was deputy assistant secretary overseeing the department’s relations with the Senate and shepherded more than 250 confirmations. Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff, said Rodriguez’s key ingredient was his humility.
“He’s very smart about getting things done without insisting on his own ways,” Mills said. “On a call with 10 different voices talking, Miguel won’t be one of those voices until he’s listened to what other people have to say.”
While he was part of Clinton’s team, Rodriguez caught the attention of Nabors, who recruited him into Obama’s orbit. In October 2011, Rodriguez joined the legislative affairs shop, where he handled mostly foreign affairs and national security issues. That included the administration’s dealings with Congress surrounding last September’s deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Once the attack piqued the interests of lawmakers, there were dozens of hearings, some of them classified. Senators and representatives had reports to review and questions they wanted answered about Benghazi. With the integrity and reputations of both Obama and Clinton on the line, Rodriguez emerged as a behind-the-scenes point person, colleagues said.
“Miguel was not just in the thick of it; he was at the forefront of it,” Reines said. “It was just an around-the-clock effort, and we leaned on Miguel as if he never left State.”