In part 2 of our EXPOSED! look at one of the USA's top 'power couples', we turn to their legacy project...
"The Clinton Foundation has posed a very serious conflict of interest for the entire time it's existed. The conflicts of interest are very real..."
~ Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen.
The Clinton Foundation is a non-profit organization set up by former President Bill Clinton. Its stated aim is to:
"strengthen the capacity of people in the United States and throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence."
Whilst the Clinton Foundation is a charity and is not required under US law to disclose the identities of contributors, it has been criticized for its lack of transparency. This was of particular concern when Hillary Clinton was running to be Democratic nominee for the President of the United States.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Clinton Foundation was dogged with perceptions of "pay to play" after revelations that top State Department aides acted on the Foundation's behalf when Clinton headed up the agency. This was due to an aide of Hilary Clinton's at the State Department having traveled to New York to interview candidates for a top job at the Clinton Foundation. This action by the aide, Cheryl Mills, directly contradicted the supposed set of rules agreed by Hilary Clinton and the Foundation. These were to ensure that any activities by the Foundation would not "create conflicts or the appearance of conflicts for Senator Clinton as Secretary of State."
Judicial Watch, which is a conservative watchdog group, obtained emails through the Freedom of Information Act. These emails indicated that Foundation officials had no problem trying to curry favor for jobs by emailing top Clinton aides like Mills. Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement whilst referring to the group of messages that they:
“show the Clinton Foundation, Clinton donors, and operatives worked with Hillary Clinton in potential violation of the law which seem in violation of the ethics agreements that Hillary Clinton agreed to in order to be appointed and confirmed as Secretary of State.”
Chelsea Clinton's role on the board only perpetuated these accusations. Craig Holman said:
"As long as the Clinton Foundation is tied to the family, very wealthy people and special interests will try to find a way to throw money at the feet of the Clinton family. And if Chelsea Clinton remains on the board, especially if she retains a fundraising role, she would be the avenue".
Donald Trump, not exactly a paragon of virtue himself, hit the nail on the head during a stump speech in Jackson, Miss.
"She wants to sell out American security to the Clinton Foundation for a big, fat pile of cash. It's hard to tell where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins."
Other emails surfaced following the Haiti earthquake appearing to show the State Department process in the recovery effort prioritizing those with close ties to the Clintons. Jake Johnston, a Haiti analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Economic and Policy Research said:
“I think that when you look at both the State Department and the Clinton Foundation in Haiti, that line was pretty faint between the two. You had a lot of coordination and connection between the two obviously. And I think that raises significant questions about how they were both operating.”
In email exchanges with top Clinton Foundation officials, a senior aide to Mrs Clinton, who was then Secretary of State, kept an eye out for those identified by the abbreviations “FOB” (friends of Bill Clinton) or “WJC VIPs” (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs). Caitlin Klevorick, a senior State Department official who was vetting incoming offers of assistance coming through the Clinton Foundation wrote “Need you to flag when people are friends of WJC. Most I can probably ID but not all.”
The emails, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Republican National Committee, fueled claims that the Clintons were running a "pay-to-play" operation. Furthermore, there was one other major issue which opened the Clinton Foundation to much criticism in Haiti. Together with the State Department, the Foundation arranged a US subsidized deal with the government of Haiti to build a $300 million factory complex in 2012. Several hundred farmers were evicted from their land to make way for the 600 acre manufacturing site, which produces clothes for retailers such as Old Navy, Walmart and Target. Whilst Mr Clinton envisaged that 100,000 jobs would be created, the industrial park only created 8,000.
In terms of donors to the Clinton Foundation, it is notable that some major donations have come from companies lobbying the Federal Government. At least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during her tenure donated a total of more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation according to a WSJ analysis of public and Foundation disclosures.
“As Mrs Clinton prepares to embark on a race for the presidency, she has a web of connections to big corporations unique in American politics – ties forged both as Secretary of State and by her family’s charitable interests.
James V. Grimaldi and Rebecca Ballhaus “Hillary Clinton’s Complex Corporate Ties”
~The Wall Street Journal 2/9/15
Whilst Hillary Clinton was at the State Department, foreign governments gave millions to the Clinton Foundation. Some of the donations came from countries with complicated diplomatic, military and financial relationships with the US government, including Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. Other nations that donated included Australia, Norway and the Dominican Republic.
Algeria donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation in 2010 and according to the Washington Post, the country was able to secure, in the same year, increased lobbyist meetings with the State Department. There were 12 visits in all to department officials that year including some visits with top political appointees. In the years before and after, only a handful of State Department visits were recorded by Algeria lobbyists.
Interpretations about the Clinton Foundation range from corruption “bigger than Watergate”, as former New York mayor Rudi Giuliani put it, to manufactured scandal.
Late night TV host Stephen Colbert summed up the ambivalence:
“The Clinton Foundation Scandal lands right up there as ‘maybe a thing’, which is the same ranking as bald guys with pony tails, because it may not be a crime but it sure don’t look good.”
While whimsical political commentator, T. T. Mann mused that:
"Trump should have built the wall with Hilary's emails...no-one can get over them!"
See you next week!