For the first time in his almost seven years as President of the United States, Barack Obama will not be seen at the annual Clinton Global Initiative summit. The event, which is timed to coincide with United Nations week in New York City, is a must-attend for the international elite. The president’s planned absence is conspicuous, and it has been covered in the Beltway press as yet another navel-gazing opportunity to engage in self-gratifying 2016 speculation. With Vice President Joe Biden weighing his options, Politico reported, the president is torn by his “divided loyalties” toward his second and his former secretary of state. Facing an agonizing Solomon’s choice, Obama simply opted to keep his powder dry and to decline to show any favoritism by appearing at the Clinton Foundation-sponsored event. It’s a tortured effort to avoid the simpler explanation for Obama’s absence. Knowing what we all now know about the Foundation and with an Imelda Marcos-sized collection of shoes precariously positioned to drop at any moment, perhaps the president simply didn’t want to be seen in such ignoble company?
It is easy to forget the disturbing revelations about the Clinton Foundation that were exposed around the same time that the House select committee investigating the Benghazi attacks discovered the extent of Hillary Clinton’s grossly negligent email practices. Considering the deleterious effect that scandal has had on Clinton’s standing in the polls, it is grimly ironic that the overshadowing of one scandal with another has redounded to the former secretary’s benefit. The appearance of corruption at the Clinton Foundation is the controversy most likely to drive a stake through the heart of Hillary Clinton’s political career.
What we know about this charity today is that it wasn’t much of a charity at all. Of course, CGI and the Foundation have done good work, but so have thousands of other charitable institutions that spend less than 60 percent of revenues merely servicing administrative costs, providing salaries, and securing lavish travel accommodations. What’s more, most of those charities are not flagrantly skirting the law.
In March, the Washington Post reported that the Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars in contributions from seven foreign governments while Hillary Clinton served as America’s chief diplomat. Some of those donations ran counter to a 2008 ethics agreement the incoming administration worked out with the Foundation. It was a compact designed to prevent ethical quandaries like, for example, the acceptance a $500,000 donation from Algeria at the same time its government was lobbying Washington to look the other way on its human rights record. Hillary Clinton even honored the Algerian president with a bilateral meeting during a 2012 visit to the country.
By April, the New York Times reported that Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved an eyebrow-raising transferal of 20 percent of America’s uranium production capacity to a well-connected Canadian uranium exploitation firm. While that deal was being transacted, the Clinton Foundation accepted $2.35 million from the company that was the beneficiary of that deal – a firm that would soon thereafter be transferred into the control of the Russian government and substantially advance Moscow’s goal of dominating the global market for fissile material.
The Times later described Clinton as “one of the most aggressive global cheerleaders” for firms like General Electric, Microsoft, Boeing, and Exxon Mobile while she served as secretary of state. Surely, it is just a coincidence that these corporations were among the most prolific domestic contributors to the Clinton Foundation.
The appearance of inappropriate conduct was swamped by the cascading revelations of obvious misconduct on the part of Clinton and here team revealed by the investigation into Clinton’s email practices. But these two scandals are growing less distinct by the day. The investigation into Clinton’s emails has begun to overlap with the appearance of malfeasance at the Foundation. This dynamic, like nothing else, has the potential to derail Clinton’s presidential ambitions.
According to new emails revealed as a result of FOIA requests from the governmental watchdog group Judicial Watch revealed that Clinton was not being truthful when she contended two weeks ago that she did not personally approve of her longtime aide, Huma Abedin, serving as a State Department employee, a Clinton Foundation operative, and a consultant for outside groups simultaneously. As her direct supervisor, Clinton did approve of the change in status for Abedin who now serves as the vice chair of Clinton’s presidential campaign. As a private/public contractor, Abedin was immediately subjected to lobbying from a Clinton loyalist and Teneo chief Doug Band to influence the White House to appoint Clinton backer and Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin to a presidential commission. “The Rockefeller Foundation paid Teneo $5.7 million in 2012 to do public relations work but no longer works with the firm,” Politico reported.
These are the details exposed by the emails that the State Department has handed over to investigators. Most of the latest tranche of Clinton communications inventory only come with descriptions. “[A]nd, boy, are these email descriptions revealing,” wrote Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel.
We find that the State Department has—but is not releasing—an email chain between then-Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and a Clinton Foundation board member about the secretary of state’s planned trip to Africa. We find that the State Department has—but is not releasing—emails between Ms. Mills and foundation staff discussing “invitations to foreign business executives to attend the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.” We find many undisclosed email chains in which State Department officials talk with Clinton Foundation officials about Bill Clinton speeches and Bill Clinton travel, including to events in North Korea and Congo.
Hillary Clinton believed that she should have been elected to the presidency in 2008. The State Department was her consolation prize; a means of keeping her within arms’ reach of her rival in the Oval Office. She believed that Obama needed her more than she needed him, and so she ran Foggy Bottom like Pablo Escobar operated La Catedral. A gilded cage of her own making, Clinton knew that oversight from the administration would be perfunctory, at best. She thought with good reason that the conventional rules did not apply to her or her subordinates. But no citadel stands unassailable forever.
The email scandal is politically dangerous for Clinton because it supports the preconception of her as clannish, paranoid, and privileged. The Clinton Foundation scandal is toxic because it fosters the impression that, under Clinton, American diplomatic influence was a commodity available to the highest bidder, regardless of U.S. national interest. The convergence of those two scandals would doom the careers of Clinton and those who surrounded her all those years.