“Hillary Clinton … took in hundreds of millions of dollars for a hospital in Haiti that went to the Clinton Foundation, that was never built — that was years ago. Where is that money?”
— Donald Trump surrogate Michael Cohen, interview on CNN, June 1
Michael Cohen, the executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Donald Trump, made this accusation while answering questions about Trump’s donations to veterans’ groups. He blamed the news media for asking questions about Trump’s donations, yet letting Hillary Clinton’s allegedly squandered hospital promise go unquestioned.
Although Cohen made the comment in passing, it was picked up by Diamond and Silk, a pro-Trump duo with a Twitter following of more than 80,600. They cited Cohen’s claim and doubled-down on the question in a video, which was retweeted or liked at least 4,600 times:
We reached out to Cohen directly and through the Trump Organization and Trump campaign several times, but he didn’t respond to our request for a source for his claim. So we dug around to see if there were any facts to support it. What we found had all the makings of a mishmash talking point stringing together different information relating to Haiti recovery efforts — such as a message from the last player in a game of “Telephone.”
The Clintons played a major role in recovery efforts in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. Former president Bill Clinton was the public face of U.S. efforts in Haiti through several recovery roles. He was the United Nations special envoy to Haiti, co-leader of the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund (with former president George W. Bush) and co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, a quasi-government planning body that approved hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government-funded recovery projects.
The U.S. Agency for International Development supported the commission’s efforts, and Hillary Clinton led the U.S. response in Haiti as secretary of state. The Clinton Foundation raised more than $30 million for Haiti relief projects.
The Clinton family’s charitable work in Haiti has been a mix of success, disappointment and controversy. As our Washington Post colleagues reported, some Clinton-backed projects didn’t come through, such as a $2 million housing expo for thousands of new housing units. The Government Accountability Office found poor planning and unsustainable outcomes for taxpayer-funded projects through USAID, such as a $170 million power plant and port for the Caracol Industrial Park, which the Clinton Foundation promoted.
Hillary Clinton’s younger brother had connections to a mining project in Haiti, raising suspicions among Haitians about the Clintons’ motives. Luxury hotel projects paid by the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund promised construction jobs — but for Haitians, it represented another disconnect between Clinton-backed efforts and the realities of one of the poorest countries struggling to rebuild after one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the Western Hemisphere.
There’s real frustration among Haitians over failures in progress promised to them, not just by the Clintons but from the international community at large. In 2015, Haitian activists protested outside the Clinton Foundation in New York, claiming the Clintons mismanaged hundreds of millions in taxpayer money through the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission.
But there is no evidence that Hillary Clinton, through the Clinton Foundation, raised “hundreds of millions of dollars” for a hospital that was never built. We consulted groups that have been critical of recovery delays in Haiti, but they could not point to a specific Clinton Foundation-funded hospital project, either.
“We’ve tried to figure out what he might be citing as well, but we can’t provide you with a source of his claim because one doesn’t exist,” said Craig Minassian, a Clinton Foundation spokesman. “The Clinton Foundation never committed to build a hospital, nor did it accept, raise, or spend funds for that purpose. His claim is false.”
There are hospital projects that have been delayed, but there’s no evidence that there were “hundreds of millions of dollars” in foundation money promised to those efforts.
For example, the USAID inspector general found delays in the $99 million reconstruction of medical facilities and medical supply warehouses through the Health Infrastructure Program. This program included the $82.3 million construction of the country’s key public hospital, the Hospital of the State University of Haiti in Port-au-Prince, one of the first projects that the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission approved. But the project is backed by money from the U.S. government, Haiti and France — not the Clinton Foundation.
Another major hospital project was the University Hospital in Mirebalais, run by Partners in Health, a group that has worked on recovery efforts with the Clinton Foundation. This hospital opened in 2013, and Partners in Health confirmed that no donation of “hundreds of millions of dollars” was committed by the Clinton Foundation for the project. (The Clinton Foundation is not listed as a supporter.)
The Clinton Foundation helped provide solar panels at Hospital Bernard Mevs in Port-au-Prince, a trauma center. But Minassian said the foundation did not commit hundreds of millions of dollars for construction of a new facility.
Perhaps Cohen was referring to the $500 million in “commitments to action” that the Clinton Foundation announced would be used for projects in Haiti. The commitments were secured from private businesses through the Clinton Global Initiative.
The commitments are public pledges that companies made at a Clinton Global Initiative conference, promising to do good in the world. The Clinton Global Initiative tracks progress of the commitments but is not responsible for their implementation.
The Pinocchio Test
There’s a lot of criticism lodged against the Clintons for their involvement with recovery efforts in Haiti. But Cohen’s claim that Hillary Clinton raised hundreds of millions of dollars through the Clinton Foundation for a hospital that was never delivered is not credible.
There is, indeed, a major public hospital in Port-au-Prince that has been delayed, even though it was one of the first projects approved by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. The commission was co-chaired by Bill Clinton, who became the face of many recovery efforts in Haiti. Cohen can blame Bill Clinton’s leadership on the commission, or the managing of taxpayer money for this project. But that claim is entirely different from the one Cohen made. Perhaps Cohen was referring to the $500 million in “commitments to action” for Haiti initiatives announced by the Clinton Foundation. But not all of the commitments were relating to health care or building a hospital, and the commitments don’t involve Clinton Foundation money.
We’ve done our part to check out his claim, but the burden of proof still lies with Cohen. If he wants to respond and point us to a specific source, we’re eager to take a look. In the meantime, he earns Four Pinocchios.
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