Saturday 21 April 2018

Clinton Foundation may fatally damage Hillary

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton looks up to audience members as she leaves a campaign event in Reno, Nevada. Photo: AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton looks up to audience members as she leaves a campaign event in Reno, Nevada. Photo: AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Photo: AP

Ruth Sherlock in Washington

The gaffes and missteps of Donald Trump have dominated the US election campaign. But Hillary Clinton seemed to put scandal behind her when she escaped indictment by the FBI over her use of a private email address as secretary of state. Since that reprieve, she has been content to sit back and allow her rival to self-destruct.

Yet another possible scandal is gathering over Mrs Clinton as the campaign enters its final stretch. This can be summed up in one phrase: donations for access.

After Bill Clinton left the presidency in 2001, he established the Clinton Foundation as a philanthropic organisation with numerous affiliates and a global reach. The Foundation's various arms have since received $2bn from an array of donors, including big corporations, wealthy individuals and foreign governments.

New evidence suggests that some donors may have believed their generosity would also buy access to Mrs Clinton during her time as secretary of state between 2009 and 2013.

The risk of a perceived link between donations to the Foundation and meetings with Mrs Clinton was evident from the beginning. During her confirmation hearings, Richard Lugar, then a Republican senator with a reputation for bipartisan fairness, highlighted the danger.

"Foreign governments and entities", he warned, "may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favour with the secretary of state."

At the time, Mrs Clinton promised to avoid "even the appearance" of a "conflict" by disclosing every donation and clearing all requests for access with the State Department.

Opponents question whether Hillary Clinton used her influence while serving as US secretary of state to win donations for the Clinton Foundation

But emails published this week by Judicial Watch, a conservative campaign group, cast doubt over whether this pledge was kept. Not every arm of the Clinton Foundation appears to have revealed every donation.

Moreover, the latest evidence suggests that some individuals were under the impression that helping the Foundation would also ease their path to seeing the secretary of state.

"These are simple questions about her email system that we hope will finally result in straightforward answers, under oath, from Hillary Clinton," said Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch.

The emails show that Doug Band, who helped to found the Clinton Global Initiative, tried to set up meetings between donors and State Department officials. Furthermore, he often succeeded.

The emails reveal that Mr Band was in frequent contact with Huma Abedin, then Mrs Clinton's deputy chief of staff at the State Department.

In some cases, he got nowhere. Mr Band failed, for example, to smooth the way for a British footballer from Wolverhampton Wanderers - later named as Sylvan Ebanks-Blake - to receive a US visa despite possessing a criminal record.

Ebanks-Blake needed an "expedited appointment at the US Embassy in London", wrote Mr Band. Some "road blocks" had intervened and "I am writing to ask for your help."

Ms Abedin replied that she was "nervous to get involved", prompting Mr Band to drop the issue with a curt message saying: "Then don't."

Other emails show that he made approaches on behalf of luminaries ranging from Bono to Salman bin Hamad, the Crown Prince of Bahrain.

U2 frontman Bono asked the Clinton Foundation to get a live link with the international space station for the band's 3D Concert Tour in 2009, emails from Clinton's private server revealed.

Ben Schwerin, a former Bill Clinton aide emailed Huma Abedin with the rock star's request to link up U2's concert tour on the international space station.

"Bono wants to do a link-up with the international space station on every show during the tour this year… Any ideas?", wrote Mr Schwerin.

Bono is a long-time supporter of the Clinton Foundation, having previously hosted fundraiser concerts for its benefit.

Mr Band described Crown Prince Salman as a "good friend of ours" - he had, after all, pledged $32m to a branch of the Clinton Foundation.

The prince was indeed granted an appointment with the secretary of state.

In fairness, Bahrain is a close ally of Washington and hosts the US Fifth Fleet in the Gulf. Crown Prince Salman, the heir to the throne, probably would have met her in any case.

But any appearance of a link between Crown Prince Salman's promised donation and his later appointment with Mrs Clinton may prove damaging.

The evidence suggests this was not an isolated case. An Associated Press analysis of a partial release of Mrs Clinton's State Department diary shows that over half of the people from outside the US government whom she met or spoke to on the phone - 85 out of 154 - were Clinton Foundation donors.

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