State Department

Image courtesy of U.S. Department of State

Clinton Emails Show Pattern of
Foundation Donor Access

| published August 25, 2016 |

By Keith H. Roberts, Thursday Review staff

It’s the issue that Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would like to go away. And it is also the one issue which threatens to erode Clinton’s lead over Republican rival Donald Trump.

Only a week after a federal judge ruled that the former Secretary of State and her staff would be required to answer a written inquest by a public interest watchdog group—one of the organizations which brought a lawsuit against Clinton and the Clinton Foundation more than 16 months ago—questions about Clinton’s emails still dog her on the campaign trail and remain a key factor in the minds of many voters who regard her as untrustworthy.

Though Clinton retains a solid lead over Republican rival Trump in most national polls, her campaign strategists worry that the persistent negative perception of Clinton as being averse to transparency and accountability will overpower her electoral tack as November draws closer. Even a few Democratic pollsters worry that the drip-drip-drip of negative news—though it may not drive voters toward Trump on election day—could merely encourage many voters in key states to stay home instead, in effect giving Trump a last-moment advantage.

A newly discovered cache of roughly 14,200 emails—as well as more than 700 pages of documents released as part of a lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch—reveals a pattern of access by donors to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation via several top Clinton aides. In short: those who gave generously to the charitable foundation were sometimes given direct and unfettered access to Clinton while she acted as America’s top diplomat.

Though in many cases Clinton remained scrupulously insulated by her top lieutenants, especially Huma Abedin, the emails reveal a pattern of access—in several instances directly to Clinton—asking for favors or for leverage. In one case, rock singer and U2 frontman Bono asked for direct help with the use of a major communications satellite for a live feed of a concert. In other cases, wealthy foreign businessmen or highly-placed foreign political leaders with track records of large donations merely wanted one-on-one meetings with Clinton.

In some cases, the emails show that Abedin—acting as filter and gatekeeper—corresponded directly with Clinton for guidance. In other cases, a roundtable of sorts would ensue as Abedin, Clinton and others would discuss how to handle each request. The outcome of each set of emails and exchanges is not certain, nor was being a donor to the foundation a guarantee of getting a favor: the emails show that some solicitations by donors get a positive response, and some do not. Almost all get at least a meeting.

Clinton’s adversaries in the GOP have alleged that Clinton used her powerful position as Secretary of State to leverage favors and political support for those who gave generously to the foundation. Likewise, some have argued that the preferred traffic flowed both ways: State Department leverage was used to bring about favorable outcomes for things with an impact of the future of the Clinton Foundation.

More troubling, perhaps, even to some Democrats, is the fact that the discovery of this newest trove of more than 14,000 emails stands in stark contrast to Clinton’s persistent claims earlier this year and last year that she had turned over all her work-related emails.

Last year, Clinton said she and her staff deleted some 30,000 emails which were of a strictly personal nature. Another 29,500 emails were systematically released by Clinton or by the State Department, though the release of those emails took months to accomplish and came only after a federal judge ordered the State Department to expedite the process of dissemination.

At the core of the controversy surrounding most of those emails was the issue of Clinton’s use of a private email service and a privately built and maintained server—called by techies a homebrew server—not authorized by the State Department nor any government agency. While acting as Secretary of State, she maintained that server in the Clinton home in Chappaqua, New York.

All old news, Clinton’s strategists and supporters would say, except that the newly-released correspondence between Clinton, Abedin and others reveal what some public interest groups and watchdog groups have suggested all along: that many big-givers to the Clinton Foundation had better access to the highest levels at the State Department than those who never interacted with the charitable foundation.

Unrelated to the lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch, the 14,000 additional emails came after FBI agents and forensic technicians dug more deeply and exhaustively into the contents of Clinton’s personal email account used while she worked at State. The new email trove goes above and beyond the more than 60,000 accounted for last year (retained or deleted by Clinton or her aides).

But it has been the recent Associated Press investigation, which seems to show a pattern of easy access by heavy-hitter donors to the family-run foundation, which has given Republicans—and most especially candidate Trump—additional ordnance to hurl at Clinton on the campaign trail. Trump has called the foundation “a corrupt organization” and a hotbed for quasi-criminal activity, a charge denied by foundation representatives and a claim scoffed at by the Clinton campaign.

Nevertheless, some in the GOP and among Republicans in Washington are calling for an investigation into the sometimes shrouded financial dealings of the foundation, which receives contributions from individuals and governments of hundreds of nations. The AP report suggests that those who gave generously to the Clinton Foundation were often given expedited access to top State Department officials, and in some cases Clinton herself.

The Foundation, which was founded by Bill Clinton in the weeks after his Presidency ended in 2001, has as its official and noble purpose the goal of linking government leaders, business leaders, non-profit organizations and social groups to the table to generate tractionable solutions to major problems. The Foundation has outreach and employees and volunteers in nearly every region of the world, and in the post-Clinton years the organization expanded rapidly and grew to become a prestigious entity for which many power brokers and would-be leaders sought access. Bill Clinton became the Foundation’s chief representative and spokesperson, frequently shilling for the organization’s trending activities while hobnobbing with world leaders in more than 120 countries.

Among the causes and concerns of the Clinton Foundation: world hunger and food production, health and medical care, opportunities for girls and women, climate change and green sources of energy, educational opportunities in regions where secular schools are few, and—perhaps most especially—economic development. The foundation can trace its on-the-ground work into scores of countries and into every continent.

One of the major components of the Clinton Foundation is the Clinton Global Initiative, a division of the organization which has the key goal of matching deep pocket philanthropists with specific causes or concerns and in targeted regions—sometimes under the umbrella of a package of economic initiatives. This work involves lobbying and roundtable meetings, emails and phone calls, and gentle forms of arm-twisting throughout the year, and has as its big culmination a lavish awards and recognition event each year in New York City. The event is considered one of the A-list shindigs, and an invite means you have arrived at the pinnacle of power, or proximity to it, at least for one night.

All legal, and all fine and good, say even many Republicans. But the foundation’s organizational chart and financial activities are famously dense and opaque, and its accounting and disclosures of donations notably obtuse. The Clinton foundation has long been loath to reveal or disclose much about those who give cash, and it has often stonewalled when requests for financial tracking have been made formal. To some investigative journalists this tendency toward murky numbers and unclear cash-trails fits easily and readily into a long and familiar pattern of dodging transparency. Like many things over the decades, requests for full accountability have left the Clinton’s stone-faced and silent, and have left reporters with more questions than answers.

Notable among the things recently discovered by the Associated Press is that among those who contributed within the middle and upper tiers to the Clinton Foundation during her tenure as the top diplomat for the U.S., the rate of face-to-face meetings with Clinton or the top brass at Foggy Bottom was much higher than those who gave nothing to the foundation. Most striking: the recently obtained correspondence and the new trove of emails show that more than half of all Clinton’s one-on-one meetings during her tenure at State were with people who had given generously to the foundation.

This has given rise to more talk of the foundation serving as little more than a vehicle for power and wealth for the Clintons, and—at the very least—shows that a U.S. Secretary of State used her office as a tool for linking up foundation donors with the muscle and leverage of the U.S. government. This would constitute, according to some analysts and legal savants, a breach of trust and a conflict of interest—especially if it can be proven that the pattern of access was sanctioned officially or unofficially.

The State Department issued a response to this possibility earlier in the week, saying that there was nothing improper—nor was there ever anything untoward—about Clinton having meetings with people who donated to the foundation, just as there is nothing suspicious about her meeting with top partisan politicians or individuals representing political groups.

Effectively quoting the State Department employee handbook, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said “individuals, including those who have donated to political campaigns, non-profits, or foundations—including the Clinton Foundation—may contact or have meetings with officials in the administration.” In other words, Clinton was allowed to meet with whomever she chose to meet with, at least under Toner’s interpretation of the rules.

But many in Congress are not so sure about that blanket license-to-hobnob, and some in the GOP are calling for a closer look into why such a clear pattern was allowed to emerge during Clinton’s tenure at State. Some also question why the White House did not intervene when it became clear that the meetings with foundation funders could raise eyebrows. The Clinton campaign balks at the suggestion that Hillary Clinton used her position as Secretary of State as a surrogate office for the Clinton Foundation, its activities, and the special requests and favors of some of the foundation’s biggest rainmakers.

In the meantime, Trump has escalated his attacks on Clinton to include a call for a special investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Clinton has unloaded some of her most intense attacks on Trump yet, admonishing the businessman and the GOP for inviting fringe elements and ultra- right-wing cranks into the mainstream of Republican Party politics. Both campaigns have begun to saturate the airwaves with sharply negative ads attacking one another.

New polls show that even though Clinton is maintaining a comfortable lead over Trump nationally, the race in some key battleground states is tightening—including Florida, where a Florida Atlantic University poll shows Trump slipping ahead of Clinton by 3-to-4 points.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Battle Lines Drawn Between Clinton and Trump; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; July 30, 2016.

Federal Judge: Trump University Case to go to Trial; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; August 5, 2016.