Clinton e-mails: Did donors get special State Department access?

A batch of e-mail exchanges between Hillary Clinton and donors to the Clinton Foundation raises questions about conflicts of interest during her tenure as secretary of State.

Charlie Neibergall/AP/File
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a community forum on healthcare, at Moulton Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa, in September.

The latest batch of released Hillary Clinton e-mails appears to show, again, that Clinton Foundation donors got special access to the Clinton-led State Department, raising questions, again, about conflicts of interest that could serve to further jeopardize her campaign.

E-mail exchanges with Clinton Foundation donors such as George Soros and Bill Gates show these donors "got prompt attention" and "gained high-level access to press their policy concerns inside the Clinton-led State some cases, donors were granted face-to-face contact with top officials," the Washington Post reported Monday, in a piece that outlined how closely intertwined Mrs. Clinton's work as secretary of State appeared to be with the Clinton Foundation.

“The word was out to these groups that one of the best ways to gain access and influence with the Clintons was to give to this foundation,” Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group that seeks to tighten campaign finance disclosure rules, told the International Business Times earlier this year. “This shows why having public officials, or even spouses of public officials, connected with these nonprofits is problematic.”

Enacted in 1962, federal conflict-of-interest laws restrict certain federal government officers and employees from participating in matters in which they have a personal financial interest.  

To be sure, there is no evidence of a quid pro quo and Clinton's interactions with influential figures in both politics and finance are not unusual for a secretary of State, as the Clinton camp has pointed out in the past. But the latest batch of Clinton e-mails show more evidence of overlap between Clinton's public and private work. While there are no indications of illegality, it could create another public relations nightmare for the beleaguered Democratic candidate and raise questions about her judgment in public office.

Along with Mr. Soros and Mr. Gates, the e-mail exchanges reviewed by the Post include references to fashion industry executive Susie Tompkins Buell, Ukrainian steel magnate Viktor Pinchuk, and entertainment mogul and pro-Israel advocate Haim Saban, who gave more than $2 million to Clinton campaigns and more than $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, and who said he would pay "whatever it takes" to get Clinton into the White House in 2016.

When Soros, a top contributor to the Clinton Foundation, e-mailed Clinton, demanding “urgent attention from the highest levels of the U.S. government," she alerted a top aide to what she described as a “very forceful message which is good — and needed.”

In 2010, Soros was able to secure a meeting with Clinton herself to discuss US government funding for the American University of Central Asia, an educational institution that Soros helped support in the former Soviet Union, according to the Post.

Others followed a similar pattern. Steel magnate Pinchuk pledged more than $10 million to the Clinton Foundation. He also met with a top Clinton aide to try to soothe tensions with Washington over Ukraine's human rights record and its coziness with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the time.

Clinton is even connected to the famously conservative retail giant Walmart, which has supported Clinton campaigns and projects over the years, including a women's entrepreneurship initiative promoted by the Clinton-led State Department.

These revelations reported by the Post aren't the first time watchdog groups and media have reported on potential conflict of interest between the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton State Department.

According to an April 2015 Vox analysis, at least 181 companies, individuals, and foreign governments that have given to the Clinton Foundation also lobbied the State Department during Clinton's tenure there.

A separate International Business Times analysis in May 2015 found that under Clinton's leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments had given money to the Clinton Foundation, "nearly double the value of arms sales made to the those countries during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term."

However, what most observers, including author Peter Schweizer, who wrote an entire book on the matter, "Clinton Cash," conclude: There is no evidence that Clinton broke any laws or that she took any official action in exchange for Clinton Foundation contributions.

Rather, according to these analyses, the examples revealed in Clinton's e-mail exchanges reveal a pattern of behavior that shows how Clinton's private and public work benefited each other – and her own political ambitions.

It was a potential conflict of interest Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana warned against during Clinton's 2009 Senate confirmation hearings when he urged the Clinton Foundation to "forswear" accepting contributions from foreign governments.

“Foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the secretary of State,” said, Lugar, who voted against Clinton's confirmation.

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