“The new emails underscore that this effort [to keep foundation business separate from the State Department] was at best partly successful,” the Times editorial board wrote. "'Pay-to-play’ charges by Donald Trump have not been proved. But the emails and previous reporting suggest Mr. Trump has reason to say that while Mrs. Clinton was secretary, it was hard to tell where the foundation ended and the State Department began.”
The move is a significant one, given the Times editorial board carries significant heft on the American left and is hardly an anti-Clinton source.
But it’s not the only Democratic-leaning source to acknowledge in recent days that the Clinton Foundation raises potential red flags — both today and should Hillary Clinton become president.
Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Sunday on “Meet the Press”: “I think there's legitimate questions about the Clinton Foundation.” (Plouffe was quick to clarify that he thinks the foundation does good work and should not be shut down, though.)
Similarly, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said on CNN last Thursday that, while there’s no evidence of real wrongdoing, the appearance of potential conflict of interest makes this a valid issue to raise. “This isn't an example of the Clintons playing by their own rules, because there's absolutely zero evidence — zero evidence — that any rules were broken here,” Himes said. “Now, what is undeniable is that there is the possibility for a conflict of interest, of course. And by the way, that's true in journalism. It's true in politics. It's true all over the place.”
To be clear, none of the three mentioned above have suggested any wrongdoing. In fact, they say allegations made about the foundation are largely overblown and that Republicans are over their skis in alleging any kind of a quid pro quo or favoritism at this point.
But they do acknowledge that it’s valid to raise those questions. They’re not saying it’s a complete non-story, as perhaps the Clinton campaign would prefer. And now the Times editorial board is calling for concrete action to combat even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Importantly, this comes at a time when Clinton allies are fighting back against reporting — specifically from the Associated Press — that raises questions about whether the Clinton Foundation’s business was too closely intermingled with the State Department under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The AP has defended a story revealing that more than half of the nongovernmental people Clinton met with during a portion of her tenure — the portion for which AP was able to obtain records — were Clinton Foundation donors. Clinton allies have accused the AP of cherry-picking facts and misrepresenting the data in its promotion of the story.
But the AP story wasn’t the only one raising questions about whether State Department business and Clinton Foundation business might have overlapped more than Clinton had promised it would. Previously, emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative group Judicial Watch showed a top foundation aide emailed the State Department about employment for another foundation aide. In another email, the same person, Doug Band, sought a contact for a Clinton Foundation donor in Lebanon.
The emails were sent to State Department aides, not Clinton herself.
All of this reporting raises questions, given Clinton promised she would keep the business of the foundation separate from State Department business before being confirmed as secretary of state. (That was a major worry of the incoming Obama administration.)
No one sees a smoking gun yet, but even Democrats, it seems, have decided they can’t ignore the possibility of conflicts of interest with the Clinton Foundation. The New York Times’s editorial board is certainly the highest profile source to call for direct action to address potential conflicts, but it’s a significant one. And this is starting to look like a situation that the Clinton campaign will have to address in detail — before Nov. 8.