Latest batch of Clinton emails sheds light on relationship with donors

The FBI has uncovered 14,900 additional emails and documents from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of State.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks in Scranton, Pa., Aug. 15. The State Department said Monday it is reviewing nearly 15,000 previously undisclosed emails recovered as part of the FBI's now-closed investigation into the handling of sensitive information that flowed through Hillary Clinton's private home server.

The US State Department released another batch of 14,900 emails from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of State, causing some observers to conclude that the Clinton Foundation donors received extra government "access" although not necessarily favors.

The debate over this batch of emails hinges on whether, as the conservative group Judicial Watch alleges, the emails reveal State Department "special favors" for Clinton Foundation donors or merely the technically legal practice of paying for "access."

"These new emails confirm that Hillary Clinton abused her office by selling favors to Clinton Foundation donors,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a press release. 

The Clinton campaign insists the emails reveal that Mrs. Clinton granted the donors no favors, even though they made requests, USA Today reported.

“No matter how this group tries to mischaracterize these documents, the fact remains that Hillary Clinton never took action as Secretary of State because of donations to the Clinton Foundation,” Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin said.

Non-partisan groups told USA Today that “access” is a more accurate description of what Clinton Foundation donors obtained from the Secretary of State. But in Washington, where time really is money, meetings with top officials are a valuable premium even if, as Clinton’s campaign insists and the evidence so far suggests, no direct action followed.

One email series, for example, showed the Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain tried to schedule a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton but had no success until he set up a scholarship fund under the Clinton Foundation to gain intervention from the charity's president Doug Band. The Clinton campaign responded by saying the prince received a meeting with Clinton through normal diplomatic channels.

"These emails show that there was a long line of Clinton Foundation friends who had no qualms about asking the Clinton State Department for meetings, favors, and special treatment,” Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), told USA Today. “Not shocking, but it is disappointing that there were such blurred lines between State Department officials and outsiders. I see little action on these latest requests, but I think further investigation is needed.”

Does this mean the blurry lines between the Clinton Foundation and the secretary of State’s office constituted corruption? USA Today noted that according to the 2014 Supreme Court decision McCutcheon v FEC that struck down aggregate limits on campaign contributions, “Ingratiation and access are not corruption.”

The antidote to such double-dealing, the court found, is transparency, and that is one thing the State Department’s most recent email disclosure – 14,900 emails released, compared to 30,000 released earlier that Clinton’s lawyers deemed work-related – certainly promises. It marks a prompt and substantial increase, The Washington Post noted, after a judge ordered the State Department to expedite the release planned for October.

This particular iteration of transparency came from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) probe, which led Director James Comey to call Clinton's conduct "extremely careless" but not illegal in July. The email saga has offered an inside look into Clinton's political dealings, as the FBI declined an indictment but disapproved of how she handled the classified material in her care, as the Christian Science Monitor's Peter Grier wrote:

FBI evidence disproves some of the key statements Clinton has made in her own defense. Most important, the agency found that 110 of Clinton’s emails were marked as 'classified' when they were sent or received. Clinton has long said that she never knowingly handled secrets on her private system.

The bottom line: Once again, a Clinton is enmeshed in a situation where the phrase 'they should have known better' seems an appropriate description. The email controversy will now join a list of incidents that stretches from Whitewater to Travelgate to Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, and big bucks Wall Street speeches.

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