Bill Clinton: Foundation didn’t do anything ‘knowingly inappropriate’

If there is one thing that America has missed about the Clinton era, it has to be the lawyerly linguistic gymnastics from the former first family aimed at extricating themselves from controversy. The 42nd President of the United States is a masterful rhetorician, but his exculpatory skills might have atrophied in the years he has spent out of office.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden, Bill Clinton opened up about the Clinton Foundation and other charities that have come under intense scrutiny since it became clear that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton planned to run for president.

In the interview, McFadden noted that the Foundation violated the terms of an ethical memorandum with the Obama administration that prohibited it from accepting donations from foreign governments while Hillary Clinton served in office. The Foundation acknowledged that was an ethical lapse when it announced it would only accept donations from a handful of Western countries moving forward. Of course, Bill Clinton refused to concede the obvious; that this decision by the Foundation represented an acknowledgment of reputation-staining mistakes on its part.

“It’s an acknowledgment that we’re going to come as close as we can during her presidential campaign to following the rules we followed when she became secretary of state,” Clinton insisted unconvincingly.

Clinton claimed that the Foundation never did anything “knowingly inappropriate” and refused to apologize for the charity’s acceptance of donations from suspect foreign governments like Saudi Arabia. “I don’t think that I did anything that was against the interest of the United States,” the president said.

“Do you understand though that the perception itself is a problem?” McFadden asked.

“No,” Clinton replied. “I’m not responsible for anybody else’s perception.”

“No one has ever tried to influence me by helping you,” the former president added while channeling his wife. “There is no doubt in my mind that we have never done anything knowingly inappropriate in terms of taking money to influence any kind of American government policy. That just hasn’t happened.”

Clinton later insisted that what he’s most concerned about is a “very concerted effort to bring the foundation down.” Almost like a vast conspiracy of sorts. As for the millions and millions of dollars in income the Clintons have amassed through the Clinton Global Initiative, Bill Clinton said that he gives much of his money to charity, and he has taken little in capital gains. But Clinton insisted he would not stop giving speeches to anyone who would compensate him appropriately. “I gotta pay the bills,” he added.

That line might complicate his wife’s effort to cast herself a crusader against inequality and a champion for the impoverished and disenfranchised.

The many allegations and indications of impropriety raised by Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer and other journalistic outlets were not addressed by Clinton in his NBC interview. His is a boilerplate self-defense that can be applied to any scandal and tailored around the margins to meet specific vindictive requirements. It’s all eerily familiar. The 1990s are well and truly back.

While many Americans surely remember the dot-com boom and the sitcom Friends fondly, few could be looking forward to the return of this pair of deliberately obtuse obfuscators to the Oval Office.