“SECRETARY CLINTON’S ethics agreement at the time did not preclude other State Department officials from engaging with, or having contact with, the Clinton Foundation,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told Fox News, following the release of new information on interactions between staff at Hillary Clinton’s State Department and her family’s foundation. That does not mean that everything Ms. Clinton’s senior advisers did was pristine. Rather, it suggests the ethics agreement was not strong enough.
As with the last data release, the new information, provided by the conservative activist group Judicial Watch and Fox News, does not show or imply corruption stemming from the relationship between Ms. Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. In fact, emails to and from Clinton confidante Huma Abedin show that access-seekers associated with the foundation often were rebuffed. A British soccer star seeking a visa to the United States did not get special intervention, even though the request came through a major Clinton Foundation donor and a foundation executive. “No clue” is how Ms. Abedin responded to a question from U2 singer Bono about how to obtain a live uplink to the International Space Station. And a foundation donor who apparently did get a meeting, Slim-Fast billionaire S. Daniel Abraham, might well have secured it in any case given his long record of donating to Democratic campaigns and his work on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
Many others apparently got through, according to an AP analysis released Tuesday, which found that “More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money — either personally or through companies or groups — to the Clinton Foundation.” Again, many of them might have received appointments even had they not contributed. But why were these emails going back and forth between State and foundation staff at all? After promising to avoid any conflict or appearance of conflict, Ms. Clinton left ample room for perceptions that access to the Clinton Foundation could enable access to the government. Foundation staff appealed to Ms. Clinton’s staff on behalf of donors, including foreign ones. That contact often did not lead anywhere, but it certainly encouraged corporate and foreign entities to calculate that giving to the Clinton Foundation might pay off in access. Impressions such as these are corrosive to national institutions.
Bill Clinton last week said that the foundation will drastically reorganize if Ms. Clinton becomes president. It will stop taking foreign and corporate donations, and many of its charitable initiatives will be spun off into different institutions. Mr. Clinton also said he would leave the foundation’s board and cease fundraising for it. It would have been much better to take these measures when Ms. Clinton started at State. At this point, especially given the emerging record of contacts, they are probably not enough. The foundation undoubtedly does worthwhile work. Should Ms. Clinton win, all of that work and all of the foundation’s assets should be spun off to an organization with no ties to the first family.