With the Clinton Foundation and the email scandal making the news again this week, both the fact checkers and ethicists are once again weighing in. PolitiFact has debunked Clinton surrogate Jennifer Granholm’s defense of the Clinton Foundation. Granholm claimed Clinton complied with the ethics agreements she entered into when she became Secretary of State. PolitiFact disagrees:
New emails released after Granholm made her statement, detailed in an Associated Press investigation, show that Clinton took many meetings with foundation donors as secretary of state and offered assistance to several.
The ethics agreements, plural
Clinton pledged to keep her distance from foundation matters as secretary of state. “I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which The William J. Clinton Foundation (or the Clinton Global Initiative) is a party or represents a party …,” she said.
The Clinton Foundation signed its own, separate memorandum of understanding with the Obama administration, promising to disclose donors annually and report material donation increases to the State Department among other things.
“The parties also seek to ensure that the activities of the Foundation, however beneficial, do not create conflicts or the appearance of conflicts for Senator Clinton as Secretary of State,” the memorandum of understanding reads.
What’s clear is that both agreements were intended to minimize conflicts of interest.
And in that regard, experts told us Granholm’s comments amount to poorly masked spin that focus on Clinton’s personal involvement while ignoring the involvement of her top aides.
Granholm is right that neither agreement prohibits aides facilitating meetings or taking job recommendations, but that’s only technically accurate because terms of the agreement were pretty specific to begin with, said John Wonderlich, the director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.
“The letter of the memorandum of understanding is not the standard by which they’re being judged,” Wonderlich said. “By trying to use that as a defense, that just highlights the deficiencies of the memorandum of understanding.”
Granholm offered a lawyerly response that reflects “a certain tone-deafness on the part of the Clintons, their staff and surrogates,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor who specializes in government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “It keeps you out of jail but it doesn’t really address the underlying concern.”
That concern is that donors and those with ties to the Clinton Foundation could use their connections to curry favor with the U.S. government, “not just whether Clinton is technically violating an ethics statute” narrowly tailored for legal purposes.
So while the emails contain no smoking guns that point to pay-to-play, Wonderlich said, they contribute to “a sense of commingling the personal and the official.”
Clark held up the Clinton campaign’s argument that Band sent the emails as Bill Clinton’s aide as an example of a flimsy response.
“That’s nice, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a foundation connection,” she said. “The foundation’s work is no doubt laudable, but it’s not at all clear how they are addressing a reasonable perception that giving money to the foundation may help one accomplish goals related to the U.S. government.”
Craig Holman of the government accountability think tank Public Citizen said the new emails at least show “an effort was made to secure official favors” for donors.
“The Clinton Foundation itself did not live up to the expectations of the ethics agreement,” he said.
Outside of the emails, the Clinton Foundation has actually violated its memorandum of understanding with the State Department.
As previously mentioned, the foundation agreed to disclose donors every year while its various initiatives would do the same and report material increases from existing donors to the state department.
But in 2015, numerous media outlets reported several instances of the Clinton Foundation breaking its promises. There were three major examples:
• Not reporting to the State Department a $500,000 donation from Algeria in 2010
• Not disclosing over 1,000 donors who passed $2.35 million total through the Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative through a Canadian foundation (the foundation simply reported the revenue from the Canadian foundation)
• Not updating or notifying the State Department on the Clinton Health Access Initiative’s donor list, which included five new foreign countries and two with material increases in giving, from 2010 to 2013
To be clear, none of these disclosure failures are proof of quid pro quo. But experts told us that the Clinton camp and the public should have higher standards.
“The fact that it’s not a bribe may help keep you out of federal prison, but is that good enough?” Clark said.
Granholm said Clinton “abided by the ethics agreement” between the Clinton Foundation and the Obama administration.
That’s a misleading response that ignores what occurred at Clinton’s State Department.
Experts told us emails between Clinton aides and a foundation aide may not have been prohibited by the specific terms of the ethics pledges. But they demonstrate a blurring of the lines between official government business and Clinton’s personal connections — breaking the firewall Clinton agreed to preserve.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
Politico discussed the latest revelations, along with the announcement that Chelsea Clinton will remain on the board of the Clinton Foundation. The interviews included Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn:
“Without a doubt, moving forward, having Chelsea at the foundation is really going to create problems for [Clinton],” Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn said, noting that ethics rules typically recognize the child of an official as being directly linked to their interests.
Hillary Clinton tried to turn attention back on Donald Trump in a speech today. The New York Times reports:
Hillary Clinton delivered a blistering denunciation Thursday of Donald J. Trump’s personal and political history with race, arguing in her most forceful terms yet that a nationalist conservative fringe had engulfed the Republican Party.
In a 31-minute address, building to a controlled simmer, Mrs. Clinton did everything but call Mr. Trump a racist outright — saying he had promoted “racist lie” after “racist lie,” pushed conspiracy theories with “racist undertones” and heartened racists across the country by submitting to an “emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right.”
“He is taking hate groups mainstream,” Mrs. Clinton told supporters at a community college here, “and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.”
Hillary Clinton gave this speech attacking Donald Trump as being from the “alt-right.” The battle is on, Clinton of the neocon-right versus Trump of the alt-right. May they both lose.