IN ANOTHER election year with an opponent who is not so obviously unqualified, last week’s revelations about connections between Hillary Clinton’s State Department and the Clinton Foundation would have been bigger news. Though it is an exaggeration to claim that Ms. Clinton ran her agency as a pay-to-play operation, the latest unearthed emails from the Clinton State Department nevertheless reveal that the ethical wall she was supposed to have built between herself and her family’s organization was not impermeable enough.
Two email conversations revealed by the conservative activist organization Judicial Watch show that staff on both sides of that wall were in contact. Both conversations involved Douglas J. Band, head of the Clinton Global Initiative in 2009, when the emails were written, and top Clinton aides. In the most concerning, Mr. Band pressed Clinton confidantes Huma Abedin and Cheryl D. Mills to connect Gilbert Chagoury, a major Clinton Foundation donor, with a senior State Department official. Mr. Chagoury says that no meeting took place and that he just wanted to pass information about the political situation in his native Lebanon to the relevant diplomatic official.
Still, Ms. Abedin responded encouragingly to Mr. Band’s request. Ms. Clinton was not personally involved, but her top surrogates were. Offering access, even just for sharing information, is providing a favor. The Clinton Foundation, though a nonprofit organization, is a piece of the Clintons’ legacy that they care deeply about and that is essential to their high-flying lifestyle. It does not matter that Mr. Band may have been acting as a “personal aide” to former president Bill Clinton rather than as a Clinton Foundation official, as the campaign now claims. That the Clintons allowed such distinctions to become blurred is part of the problem. Ms. Abedin, in fact, worked for the Clinton Foundation while she was also working at the State Department.
The behavior depicted in the latest emails does not appear to have significantly harmed the conduct of U.S. diplomacy, distracted from Ms. Clinton’s performance or even, given the evidence available, been particularly frequent. It certainly is not enough to launch a criminal investigation. As political scandals go, this is middling, at best.
But it suggests that some donors to the Clinton Foundation may have seen their gifts as means to buy access — and it points to much bigger potential problems. Should Ms. Clinton win in November, she will bring to the Oval Office a web of connections and potential conflicts of interest, developed over decades in private, public and, in the case of her family’s philanthropic work, quasi-public activities. As secretary, she pledged to keep her official world and her family’s foundation separate, and she failed to keep them separate enough. Such sloppiness would not be acceptable in the White House.
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