Before the e-mail scandal overshadowed the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, the real risk to her ambitions appeared to be the Clinton Foundation and the ways in which the Clintons cashed in on their political leverage. Stories about Bill Clinton’s paydays from those connected to the foundation, State Department business, or both generated top-level headlines for a while, but largely faded as Hillary’s constant lying about her e-mails eclipsed the other corrupt practices of the Clintons. Today’s story from the Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger almost has a whiff of nostalgia, but it serves as a reminder that not every issue with Hillary involves e-mails and classified material.
Hamburger reports that Clinton Foundation donors got an unusual level of access to the State Department’s highest echelons, raising more questions about conflicts of interest and corruption:
Soros, a top contributor to the Clinton Foundation, was one of several major donors whose messages were disclosed by the State Department last week as part of the ongoing release of the former secretary’s e-mails. Other exchanges included references to entertainment mogul Haim Saban, who has said he would pay “whatever it takes” to propel Clinton to the White House in 2016, as well as other major Clinton Foundation donors such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, fashion industry executive Susie Tompkins Buell and Ukrainian steel magnate Viktor Pinchuk.
The e-mails that mention donors — numbering a few dozen out of the thousands of pages of messages released so far — do not show that financial supporters were able to alter policy decisions. But the dynamic points to one of the unusual aspects of Clinton’s record at State. Because she and her family have raised so much money over the years from wealthy individuals and major corporations — for political campaigns as well as the sprawling global charity founded by her husband, former president Bill Clinton — her public business as secretary inevitably brought her in contact with private interests that helped boost her family’s philanthropy and income. …
The e-mails show that, in some cases, donors were granted face-to-face contact with top officials.
Soros secured a meeting with Clinton in 2010 to discuss securing U.S. government funding for the American University of Central Asia, an educational institution that Soros helped support in the former Soviet Union.
Pinchuk, who has pledged more than $10 million to the Clinton Foundation in recent years, met with a top Clinton aide to speak on behalf of Ukraine’s strongman president and to try to soothe tensions with Washington over that country’s human rights record and its growing closeness with Russian President Vladimir Putin while resisting Europe.
The response to these stories from the Clinton camp has generally been a celebration of Hillary’s global reach and the ability to gather data from a wide range of sources. That might be true, but who actually benefited from these global connections? We got blindsided in Ukraine, for instance, and ended up backing the other side rather than Yanukovich. The Clinton Foundation, and the Clintons in particular, always seem to benefit from these exchanges, on the other hand.
Unlike the e-mail scandal, though, nothing in Hamburger’s review of these contacts appears to have broken any laws. It just looks like a major conflict of interest as the Clintons operated the Foundation while Hillary served as Secretary of State, and how the Foundation served their own political ambitions — especially in how they retained campaign staff between presidential runs.
The question will be whether the deleted e-mails contain more specific quid pro quo arrangements. Hillary Clinton has remained mum about whether the 30,000-plus e-mails removed from the server before it was wiped contained Clinton Foundation business that might have conflicted with her work at State, but the FBI’s efforts to restore them might end up answering that question eventually. If so, that has the potential to rival the issues of national security in the e-mail scandal. This just reminds us that there may be more than one scandal that can emerge from the secret server.