Wake me up when the Clinton Foundation becomes a real scandal

    In this Oct. 28

    In this Oct. 28

    In the annals of perfidy, the Clinton Foundation barely registers on the scandalmeter. If you don’t believe me, go read the latest “revelations.” They’re a surefire cure for insomnia.

    I can appreciate the Trumpkins’ desperate search for a smoking gun. Their current predicament is well-illustrated by what’s happening in Virginia. Heck, Virginia is a metaphor for their whole campaign. Virginia used to be reliably Republican, a linchpin state for Reagan and the Bushes. But right now, Hillary Clinton is slaughtering Donald Trump in Virginia by 14 points. Why the chasm? Because Republican voters detest their own nominee; as retired business executive Walt Purnell explained, “I think he’s a failure, I think he’s a fraud, I think he’s a con artist, I think he’s insane.”

    That’s a major reason why the Clinton Foundation email stories, which have percolated in recent days, have hit the electorate with the force of a feathered pillow. The Clintons’ conduct has not been perfect – the charitable organization has accepted lots of money from foreign donors, prompting questions about whether Hillary’s State Department gave them favors in return – but there’s still no proof that Hillary engaged in “pay for play.”

    Yes, she has been imperfect. But this election is a choice between the imperfect and the horrific. Which, for anyone outside the Trump bubble, is not even a choice.

    Ideally, the wall separating the Clinton Foundation (which Bill created after leaving the White House) and the State Department (which Hillary ran from early 2009 to early 2013) would be inviolate. That’s what Hillary promised when she joined the Obama team. She said the group would list all its donors on an annual basis, to ease any concerns about foreign influence at State. There was no annual listing. In fact, the Foundation filed tax returns showing no foreign donations. The Foundation amended their returns only after the press – specifically, Reuters – discovered the donations elsewhere.

    So it’s a standard right-wing lie that the mainstream press hasn’t scrutinized the Foundation. Indeed, The Washington Post (which Trump complains about so much) editorialized this weekend that Hillary is guilty of “sloppiness,” because “the ethical wall she was supposed to have built between herself and her family’s organization was not impermeable enough.”

    However. The overlaps between the Foundation and State, according to the emails released last week by a right-wing legal group, are a monumental snore. Here’s the biggest revelation; try and stay awake:

    The Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative got a big donation from a Lebanese-Nigerian mogul, Gilbert Chagoury. An official at the Global Initiative emailed two of Hillary’s top aides, to say that Chagoury had requested a meeting with a top State official. The aides discussed that perhaps Chagoury could meet with Jeffrey Feltman, an ex-ambassador to Lebanon. But, as it turned out, Chagoury and Feltman never met. In fact, Feltman said last week that nobody ever told him that Chagoury wanted to meet.

    You still there? Here’s another Ambien pill:

    The aforementioned Global Initiative official, who’s close to Bill, emailed Hillary’s aides to say that someone who had recently traveled to Haiti on the Foundation’s dime was hoping to land a job at State. Hillary’s aides responded by saying that this traveler was on their radar.

    Hey, I warned you.

    Thus far, the most unflattering story (until you learn the details) is that Hillary’s State Department helped to OK the sale of American uranium mines to a Russian firm that donated $2.35 million to the Foundation. That story broke 16 months ago; I wrote about it as well. But there was zero evidence that the Russian firm won the mines because of its donation. Hillary had no personal involvement in the decision. Most importantly, State was one of nine agencies that had to OK the deal; the decision was made by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency group headed by the Treasury Department.

    Bottom line: Anyone who thinks this Foundation stuff smacks of Watergate is undereducated on the fundamentals of scandal. In other words, a Trump voter.

    I suspect that most people, if they’re weighing the latest Foundation stories at all, rightly intuit that the outed transactions – donors seeking access, favor trading – are typical of what has transpired in government since the creation of the republic. (How fortunate for Ronald Reagan that emails didn’t exist when he was giving government jobs – U.S. attorney general, ambassador to the Vatican – to friends who had helped make him rich.) 

    I also suspect that many people will weigh the Foundation stories against this week’s revelation that Trump’s campaign manager was earmarked to receive $12 million in off-the-book payments from Vladimir Putin allies in Ukraine – thus demonstrating, yet again, the Trump camp’s close ties to our Russian adversary. No wonder it’s tough for Trump to get traction with the Foundation stories.

    Nevertheless, it would be helpful if the Clintons told us exactly how the Foundation would operate with Hillary in the White House. Assuming that the Foundation isn’t shut down, what safeguards will be erected to ensure that Foundation donors are not treated favorably by a new Clinton administration? What steps will be taken to at least minimize perceived conflicts of interest?

    Bill himself promised last month, “We’ll think very clearly about it and we’ll do the right thing and explain it to the American people.” I’m not holding my breath. But a candidate whose frequent default is secrecy would allay voter concerns by following through on promises of transparency.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal