Clinton scandals are a lot like a desert mirage: From afar it might look real, but the closer you get, the less substantial it tends to get. The latest email “controversy,” with conservatives claiming that as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton “sold” access to donors to the Clinton Foundation, is an excellent example.
According to the anti-Clinton group Judicial Watch, the latest batch of released emails prove that in two cases, officials at the Clinton Foundation reached out to the secretary of state through her top aide, Huma Abedin, seeking favors for foundation donors. Let’s walk through the facts of those two cases:
1.) On behalf of a donor, Clinton Foundation director Doug Band did send Abedin an email seeking the State Department’s help in getting an accelerated visa interview for a British soccer player with a criminal record. Abedin responded by email that while she might be willing to ask, she was uncomfortable doing so.
“Then don’t,” Band responded. Apparently she didn’t, because no such expedited visa interview was granted. In the end, as far as anybody knows, nothing unethical, illegal or untoward occurred, and the foundation donor’s money bought nothing.
2.) As the emails reveal, Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain had tried to reach Clinton in 2010 both through the foundation and through official diplomatic channels, trying to set up a meeting while he was in town. When Abedin was contacted through the foundation, she responded that Clinton wasn’t ready yet to commit to a meeting and needed to see how her schedule looked. Two days later, Clinton agreed to the meeting, through the official diplomatic channels.
According to Judicial Watch, Salman has contributed $32 million to the Clinton Global Foundation, which supposedly clinches the claim that Clinton “sold” access to donors. Do the actual facts sustain that claim?
— Salman didn’t give the money to the Clinton Global Foundation; he made a commitment to the Clinton foundation to raise the money for his own charity, the Crown Prince’s International Scholarship Program, which he created in 1999 to give Bahrain’s top high school students full scholarships at the best universities in the world. The Clinton Global Foundation serves as basically a clearinghouse or sponsor for CPISP, helping it to raise money from sponsors, just as it does for similar education charities around the globe. The idea is that if countries such as Bahrain are going to have a future beyond petroleum, it will need a well-educated population. So it’s hard to see how Salman was trying to buy influence with money used to benefit his own subjects.
— The crown prince is heir to the throne in Bahrain, a key U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf. He’s also deputy supreme commander of the Bahrain military. In those roles, he had met previously with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and with then-secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. The concept that a man in such a high position had to pay a bribe — a bribe in the form of college scholarships to his own people, with no possible personal benefit to the Clintons– in order to get an audience is utterly beyond me.
Judicial Watch also waggles an accusing finger at meetings held between Clinton and people who were also Clinton Foundation donors, but who did not attempt to arrange those meetings through the foundation. The example it chose to highlight was S. Daniel Abraham, the billionaire founder of SlimFast, who had pledged between $5 million and $10 million. When Abraham requested a 15-minute meeting with Clinton, he got it the next day.
Judicial Watch did not mention that Abraham is the founder of the Center for Middle East Peace in Washington, which for more than 25 years has worked to find peaceful ways to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is also a major contributor to the U.S. Institute of Peace, a federal institution created under President Reagan that has worked in places such as the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan to train local officials and groups in non-violent ways to resolve conflict. Personally, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable and certainly not corrupt for a secretary of state to give such a man a 15-minute meeting.
Two final points:
It’s pretty telling that after scrutinizing tens of thousands of Clinton internal emails, her critics have settled on the alleged granting of meetings as the worst scandal they can find. Given the freedom to go traipsing through the personal emails of a lot of other top political figures, I’m betting that you’d find problems that were much more substantial.
And finally, it’s more than a bit melodramatic to see Washington political figures clutch their pearls and collapse on a nearby fainting couch at the suspicion that charitable contributions might open a door or two. No senator or congressman in the entire town would refuse to meet with a major campaign contributor, and the same is true of politicians in every state capitol across the land.
In recent years, we have also been forced to tolerate a Citizens United world in which billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson shower politicians with unlimited amounts of money, investing tens of millions of dollars to elect the person of their choice, and it’s all perfectly legal as long as there’s no explicit “quid pro quo” agreement that the money will produce favors.
That system leaves politicians of both parties vulnerable to donor pressure and it has to change, but the same Republican Party demanding that a special prosecutor investigate their latest desert mirage refuses to even acknowledge that our current campaign-finance system has become a cesspool of accepted corruption right before our eyes. The hypocrisy of it is overwhelming.