Clinton Foundation stories: why Hillary campaign can't dismiss them

Here’s a problem for Clinton 2016: Republicans aren’t the only ones troubled by the specifics of these charges.

Julie Jacobson/AP
Hillary Clinton reacts to applause from the crowd before speaking during the sixth annual Women in the World Summit on Thursday in New York.

It’s been a bad week for Hillary Clinton, news-wise. There’s been an outpouring of stories about the appearance of conflicts of interest between her role as secretary of State and her family and foundation finances.

For instance, The New York Times had a lengthy piece about Russia, uranium, and donations to the Clinton Foundation. The upshot: In the late 2000s, the US government approved the Russian purchase of American uranium assets. During that period, officials from the firm involved gave more than $2 million to the then-secretary of State’s family charity.

Also, in 2010 Bill Clinton got $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank that was promoting the uranium deal. Coincidence?

The Washington Post took another angle, documenting that between 2001 and 2013 Bill Clinton earned at least $26 million in speaking fees from companies and organizations that are also major Clinton Foundation donors. That’s about one-quarter of the former president’s total speech earnings for that period.

And Reuters found errors regarding the reporting of foreign government donations in at least five years’ worth of Clinton Foundation tax returns. Foundation officials say they’re now reexamining their records and will re-file returns to ensure accuracy.

Clintonworld has hit back hard against this negative press, with Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon saying there isn’t “a shred of evidence” that as Secretary of State Clinton did anything to benefit Clinton Foundation donors. Clinton supporters also point out that some of the stories partly rely on evidence developed by right-wing activist Peter Schweizer, a former Hoover Institution fellow and author of a forthcoming book, “Clinton Cash.”

But here’s a problem for Clinton 2016: Republicans aren’t the only ones troubled by the specifics of all these charges.

Democrats look at the stories and old memories resurface, memories with words in them like “Whitewater” and “travel office firings.” They’re worried about reliving a past in which the Clintons did not always appear sensitive to ways their business and political dealings could appear less than savory.

The issue here is not corruption per se, writes left-leaning Jonathan Chait in a widely read New York Magazine post. It’s that the Clintons paid little or no attention to the possibility that big foreign donations to their charity might look bad if one of the charity’s founders decided to run for president.

“The best-case scenario is bad enough: The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy,” writes Mr. Chait.

Will this threaten Clinton’s grip on the Democratic presidential nomination? Probably not. Her polling lead is so large, and her likely opponents so underfunded comparatively speaking, that it’s still hard to imagine her flat losing a primary battle.

She’ll have enough partisans who will dismiss the new information as unimportant to help her defeat Martin O’Malley and/or Joe Biden. Clinton’s long effort to lock up the “invisible primary” of party officials, big fundraisers, and state political networks will sure pay off here.

The general election, however, could be another matter. Her GOP opponent will meld the Clinton buck-raking stuff together with her use of a private e-mail server as secretary of State and other miscellaneous charges (Benghazi!) to create a unified theory of Clinton mendacity. Then they’ll try to sell that to enough independent voters and less-committed Democrats to swing the election in key states.

As Post political blogger Chris Cillizza writes today, the biggest threat to Clinton may be a feeling among voters that they don’t want to live through another era of Clinton-related drama. They may like her and they may think she’d be a good president, but just . . . all that stuff.

“And that is the central problem for Clinton with this series of stories today,” Mr. Cillizza writes. “It affirms for people that there is always some piece – or pieces – of baggage that comes with electing the Clintons to anything.”

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