Mr. Clinton and the Tycoon

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Monday, February 4, 2008

FRANK GIUSTRA is a Canadian mining tycoon who has given generously -- more than $130 million -- to support the charitable enterprises of former president Bill Clinton. Mr. Giustra's good works alongside Mr. Clinton may also have been good business. As the New York Times detailed in a front-page story last week, Mr. Giustra traveled with the former president in September 2005 to Kazakhstan, where Mr. Clinton announced an agreement to let that nation purchase discounted AIDS drugs and where he attended a midnight banquet with Kazakh strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev. Although he met with Kazakh dissidents, Mr. Clinton praised Mr. Nazarbayev for "opening up the social and political life of your country." And, in contrast to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's previously expressed reservations, Mr. Clinton embraced Kazakhstan's bid to head the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which works to promote human rights and fair elections, two characteristics that Mr. Nazarbayev's regime has been sorely lacking.

Within a few days, Mr. Giustra had in hand preliminary agreements giving his company the right to buy into uranium projects controlled by Kazatomprom, the state-owned uranium agency; Mr. Giustra had longtime business dealings in Kazakhstan but was a new player in uranium mining. And within several months, Mr. Giustra had pledged another $31.3 million to the William J. Clinton Foundation, adding to his previous $100 million donation.

The president and the businessman insist that these events are unconnected. Mr. Clinton knew of Mr. Giustra's mining interests in Kazakhstan but was "unaware of 'any particular efforts,' " a Clinton spokesman told the Times. Mr. Giustra told the paper that there had been "no discussion" of the deal with Mr. Nazarbayev or Mr. Clinton. But Kazatomprom's president said otherwise: Mr. Giustra discussed his proposal directly with the Kazakh president -- and his relationship with Mr. Clinton "of course made an impression."

Mr. Clinton may not be the only former president who's engaged in cozy back-scratching with self-interested businessmen and distasteful regimes. But he's the only former president who's married to someone who wants to be the next president. The Times story underscores the potential problems this could create. Among others, Mr. Clinton has said he would continue raising money for his foundation if his wife were elected president. This strikes us as a bad idea, one fraught with possibilities for conflicts of interest and questionable efforts to curry favor. Certainly, if Ms. Clinton is elected president and her husband continues the operations of his foundation, its finances must be made transparent to protect against any such abuses; Mr. Clinton has promised to reveal the names of his donors "going forward" if his wife is elected, which the Clinton campaign says is more than other presidential spouses have done with their much smaller foundations. But efforts at greater disclosure are warranted under these unique circumstances. And Ms. Clinton must make clear that her husband's foreign policy free-lancing -- whether or not it intersects with the interests of his big givers -- will have no place in a third Clinton administration.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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