“As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton laundered money to Bill Clinton through Laureate Education, while Bill Clinton was an honorary chairman of the group. Clinton’s State Department provided $55.2 million in grants to Laureate Education from 2010-2012. Laureate thanked Bill for providing unbelievable access to the Secretary of State by paying him off $16.5 million. This is yet another example of how Clinton treated the State Department as her own personal hedge fund, and sold out the American public to fund her lavish lifestyle.”
–Donald Trump campaign, email response to Hillary Clinton’s speech, June 21, 2016
The Trump campaign sent out a series of email and Twitter responses during Hillary Clinton’s speech attacking his business record, and among them was this claim that came to our attention. As usual, the Trump campaign did not respond to our request for supporting information. During his speech the next day attacking Clinton’s record as secretary of state, Trump repeated the charge that Clinton treated the State Department as her “personal hedge fund” with no evidence to back it up, either.
This talking point traces back to information from Peter Schweizer’s book, “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.” In one chapter, in discussing Bill Clinton’s role with Laureate Education, Inc., Schweizer describes a “Clinton blur” between the activities of Bill Clinton, the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. But critics, including Schweizer, have not been able to prove quid pro quo.
The short answer here is: Laureate Education Inc. did not receive $55.2 million in grants from the State Department while Bill Clinton was being paid by the company. This talking point actually conflates two organizations that are independent of each other, and is worth unraveling for our readers. So we explored it.
Laureate Education Inc., is a for-profit higher education company that owns 85 campus-based and online schools around the world. It mainly operates overseas and is known as the world’s largest for-profit education company — larger than University of Phoenix, which may be a more familiar name to Americans.
President Bill Clinton was an honorary chancellor of Laureate International Universities, which is a part of Laureate Education Inc., from 2010 through 2014. In a news release announcing his role, Clinton said he had visited Laureate’s schools the prior year and found that private universities “exemplify the same principles of innovation and social responsibility in education that we worked to advance during my Presidency and now through my [Clinton] Foundation.”
He was paid $16.5 million between 2010 and 2015, his federal tax returns show.
Clinton’s main responsibility was to speak to students at Laureate campuses around the world, from Turkey to Peru to Malaysia and beyond, about the “importance of their lives as young people in the world today,” his spokesman said. He also advised Laureate on youth leadership and expanding access to higher education.
Trump says Laureate received $55.2 million in grants from the State Department from 2010 to 2012. We found no evidence of direct grants from State Department to Laureate in those years, or any other point during Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state. However, Laureate said the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development awarded less than $1.5 million in grants and scholarships for four of its schools in other countries between 2009 and 2016.
The scholarships were given to students attending those schools, and grants were given to “promote access to a free and open internet and integrate technology in teaching to enhance student learning,” Laureate’s spokeswoman said. The bulk of the grants were awarded between 2013 and 2016, after Hillary Clinton’s term, the spokeswoman said. Three scholarships worth less than $15,000 total were awarded between 2010 and 2014.
State Department Spokesman John Kirby said in a statement to The Fact Checker: “The State Department is not aware of any grants provided directly to Laureate Education since 2009, though we are aware of some grants to educational institutions within or affiliated with the Laureate Education network.” USAID directed us to Kirby’s statement in lieu of its own response.
So where does the $55.2 million figure come from?
It’s a reference to grants received by another organization: International Youth Foundation (IYF), a nonprofit that promotes education and employment opportunities for youth around the world. Since 1999, IYF has received grants from USAID, the State Department and the Department of Labor to support its various initiatives. IYF received 13 grants from USAID between 2009 and 2013, valued at $52 million. It also received a $30.2 million grant in March 2009 that was negotiated under the George W. Bush administration, according to the IYF president. It competed for and was awarded $1.9 million State Department grant in March 2012 for a workforce development project.
Critics of the Clintons have conflated IYF and Laureate because of Doug Becker, Laureate’s founder and chief executive. He also is the chairman of IYF’s 14-member volunteer board of directors — but Becker’s role is unpaid, and the two organizations are independent of each other. (Schweizer notes in his book that the two organizations once launched a youth program together that Bill Clinton supported.)
Did Laureate gain “unbelievable access” to the State Department thanks to Bill Clinton? We asked both Clinton’s staff and Laureate Education, Inc., if there were any arrangements made for his role as honorary chancellor regarding access Laureate may have to Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Both sides said there were none.
Laureate has partnered with Clinton Global Initiative, an arm of the Clinton Foundation, since 2008. But while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, Clinton Global Initiative spun off and incorporated as its own entity apart from the Clinton Foundation, under an ethics agreement between the foundation and the Obama administration.
There was a reference to Laureate in one of Hillary Clinton’s emails released by the State Department, as reported by Inside Higher Ed. She wrote to an aide that Laureate “should be represented” at a closed-door higher education policy dinner. She described it as “the fastest-growing college network in the world,” which was “started by Doug Becker, who Bill likes a lot.” That email was sent in 2009, before Bill Clinton’s official role began with Laureate.
The Pinocchio Test
Trump’s campaign wasn’t raising questions about Doug Becker’s role with IYF, or suggesting there was more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Instead, Trump’s campaign flat-out said “Hillary Clinton laundered money to Bill Clinton through Laureate Education” and gave $55.2 million in grants to Laureate after Laureate hired Bill Clinton for the $16.5 million position.
As with so many claims by Trump and his campaign, we’ve done our part to chase down any possible way that Laureate could have received $55.2 million from the State Department under Hillary Clinton, or any evidence of quid pro quo. We found none; this is a conflated and inaccurate talking point. If the campaign wants to stand by it, they need to give us some real information to back it up, rather than throw out a bombastic charge that is simply not credible. We award Four Pinocchios.
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