The Clintons, The Foundation, & The Foreign Donations

Hillary Clinton

Photo courtesy of United Nations

The Clintons, The Foundation & The Foreign Donations
| published May 1, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton Thursday Review editor

The fact that the Clinton’s travel with heavy baggage is no longer big news. Nor is the narrative that Clinton franchise troubles can be typically waved away as the work of pesky right-wingers and vindictive Republicans.

In that vein, the campaign of Hillary Clinton would like to turn the current skirmishes about accountability and financial “complexity” back onto Republicans in Congress and the legion of GOP candidates—real or potential—who began using battering rams on her campaign literally minutes after her much-watched video on YouTube and Facebook hit the web and made her Presidential run official.

But there’s a small problem for Clinton: journalists are driving much of this conversation, not conservatives or the usual suspects among the Clinton-haters. Last week the august New York Times began probing the relationship between Canadian billionaire and financier Frank Giustra and former President Bill Clinton—a cozy, chummy friendship which netted the Clinton Foundation millions of dollars in exchange for Clinton’s substantial leverage in helping to land Giustra a uranium-mining contract in Kazakhstan.

In March and early April, the Clinton campaign had hoped to sweep aside all that talk about her private email account and that homebrew server while she served as Secretary of State, and they have assured reporters that there was nothing of interest in those thousands of emails that Clinton personally deleted. But now the Clinton campaign is facing a more daunting task in convincing journalists to turn a blind eye to the 1,100 foreign donations made to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation during the period when Hillary Clinton served as U.S. Secretary of State.

Clinton is now the de facto front-runner, of both parties. No other candidate comes close to her poll numbers, and her only potential challengers among Democrats are so far in her dust that they hardly qualify as challenges. Even her relatively weak recent polling shows her trouncing her closest potential opponent Elizabeth Warren by a two-to-one margin (45% for Clinton, 23% for Warren, according to Public Policy Polling, April 15). Her other opponents—Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley—barely register at all. Sanders (he announced his candidacy this week amidst some progressive and leftist fanfare) plans to run to Clinton’s left, Webb to her right, O’Malley somewhere in between. Warren has said she is not a candidate.

But the fact that Clinton enjoys such a comfortable early lead—virtually uncontested by other Democrats and generally rolling over her closest GOP opponents—also makes her a target of scrutiny, precisely the sort of meddlesome close-up analysis and locked closet examinations which the Clintons so famously disdain.

Though the homebrew server and the privately crafted email account used by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as the U.S. top diplomat may yet prove to be problematic, Clinton clearly hopes to recast the whole affair as a minor issue, stoked by Republicans in Congress who seek a smoking gun to link her to the fiasco in Benghazi. Multiple lawsuits are inching their way through the courts, including one brought by the Associated Press charging that emails and other documents have still not been made available for scrutiny under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. And though Clinton demonstrably violated guidelines and rules designed to keep government correspondence traceable and properly filed, it remains unclear if she outright broke any Federal laws—meaning that the email hubbub may prove to be a tempest in a teapot, particularly if nothing explosive comes from anything found on that server or among her saved (or deleted emails).

But the thorny mess surrounding the Clinton Foundation and its vast network of foreign donors—which overlaps the problems with the emails—may yet metastasize into a much larger problem for candidate Hillary Clinton, especially as reporters and investigators look even more closely at the web of cash which flowed from places like Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, Qatar, Italy, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates. Under a carefully worded agreement penned by the Obama administration even before Clinton became Secretary of State in 2009, the Clintons and the Clinton Foundation were required to disclose—in full and in detail—the contributions it received each year. That memorandum included plenty of specifics on the complex web and reach of the Foundation, and it also mentions by the name the so-called Clinton-Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative, insisting that it be included in the terms of the agreement between Hillary Clinton and the White House.

In short, the Clinton Foundation was required to disclose all aspects of its complex fundraising and its web of donors…both during, and after Hillary Clinton’s tenure at State, but in fact failed to do so.

Reporters want to find out if there was a quid pro quo between Bill Clinton and Frank Giustra: Giustra’s direct and indirect support of the foundation’s operations via thousands of politically-placed Canadian and other foreign donations in exchange for Clinton’s leverage in making the uranium-mining deal in Kazakhstan a reality for billionaire Giustra. The Clinton-Giustra partnership may be the most obvious trouble spot for the foundation, but it may also be indicative of dozens or scores of other similar complex arrangements that could prove toxic to Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign.

The Foundation and Giustra have defended the arrangement as benign, and Giustra has repeatedly said that under Canadian law, names of private donors cannot be revealed—even, as it turns out, to the Clinton Foundation, meaning that a complete accounting of who gave money may never be known. Similarly-crafted laws in some other countries have meant in essence that the Clinton Foundation was able to rake in tens of millions of dollars with little or any requirement of disclosure. But journalists question why the Clinton Foundation would have solicited or accepted any cash from donors in those countries—especially under the very clear terms of that agreement with the White House. Reporters have also asked Canadian authorities about the so-called privacy shield protecting Canadian citizens, but the answer has come back repeatedly that no such privacy protection clause exists: in short, there may be little legal reason that the Clinton Foundation cannot release those documents.

Either way, for Clinton the problem remains—at the minimum—the appearance of impropriety, even if it was inadvertent. Maura Pally, CEO of the Clinton Foundation, has acknowledged mistakes, but sticks to the Clinton’s legalistic interpretation of the Canadian rules.

“This is hardly an effort on our part to avoid transparency,” Pally told reporters, “[because] unlike in the U.S., under Canadian law, all charities are prohibited from disclosing individual donors without prior permission from each donor.” But if this tack proves to be based on a false assumption, as some Canadian tax experts suggest, the blowback for Clinton could become severe. And once again Clinton will be forced into a public acknowledgement of errors and another round of damage control.

The timing may prove bad—or fortuitous—for Clinton.

One the one hand, a newly released book by Peter Schweizer, titled Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, strongly implies that the Clintons are serial schemers, amassing an imperial fortune over the decades through their byzantine and complex partnerships around the world, but sugar-coating the whole enterprise under layers of public service, humanitarian work, and progressive political causes. Clinton Foundation projects include activities in scores of countries, including—according to the foundation’s website, recent work in Tanzania, Kenya, and several other African countries.

But the book also attempts to show a deliberate linkage between some State Department decision- making and the work of the Foundation under the auspices of Bill Clinton and his monumentally large speaking fees. The foreign cash flow mysteries—coupled with the email fiasco—may also give political leverage to candidates like Sanders and Webb, who may feel empowered at appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire to tell audiences, in so many words, “if you voters go down this path with Hillary Clinton, you will eventually find yourself heartbroken and betrayed.”

On the other hand, some political analysts suggest that the foreign cash flap has come at an opportune time for Clinton, which is to say early, and with sufficient time for her campaign to fully recover. The most immutable truth about the Clintons is their penchant for political survival, and that means that despite that legion of Republicans battering the front gate of Fort Clinton, and despite the shouting from a horde of reporters, the kingdom lives on.

Related articles:

Clinton Foundation Will Continue to Accept Foreign Cash; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 16, 2015.

Hillary Clinton Makes it Official; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 13, 2015.