A newly disclosed internal email about a potential $1 million gift from the country of Qatar to the Clinton Foundation is shedding light on how the charity dealt with donations from foreign governments during Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state.
An ethics agreement with the Obama administration placed certain limits on such contributions during her tenure. It was designed to avoid the impression that foreign governments could curry favor with the top U.S. diplomat by supporting the foundation that her husband started.
But that agreement did not stop donations from foreign governments entirely. Contributions from governments that had given before Clinton took office were allowed, provided those donations did not represent substantial increases over past giving.
The newly disclosed email, part of the thousands of hacked documents being made public by WikiLeaks, gives a sense of the scale of that giving from one U.S. ally with, at times, complicated relations with the American government.
According to an email sent to Clinton Foundation officials, the ambassador to Qatar requested a meeting with former president Bill Clinton in 2012, apparently so that he could present a $1 million check that Qatar had promised in honor of Clinton’s birthday in 2011.
Amitabh Desai, who served as a foreign-policy adviser to the former president, wrote other officials that he had met with the Qatari official. Using Clinton’s initials, Desai indicated that the ambassador had requested “to see WJC ‘for five minutes’ in NYC, to present $1 million check that Qatar promised for WJC’s birthday in 2011.”
The email was first reported by Reuters.
The Clinton campaign and foundation officials have refused to authenticate individual emails released by WikiLeaks, noting that the Russians, who have been accused by U.S. intelligence of orchestrating recent cyberhacks, sometimes doctor or fake documents.
It is not clear whether Bill Clinton ever met with the ambassador or whether the official presented the check. But foundation officials have disclosed that Qatar donated to the Clinton Foundation in 2012 as part of a series of gifts that have so far totaled between $1 million and $5 million.
The Clinton Foundation previously indicated that Qatar was one of seven foreign governments that made donations to the global philanthropy while Clinton was secretary of state. But the amount of Qatar’s giving during that time has not been previously known.
Craig Minassian, a foundation spokesman, said, “Since 2002, Qatar has been among our hundreds of thousands of donors who have supported the Clinton Foundation’s overall humanitarian work including making life-saving HIV/AIDS treatment available to millions of people in more than 70 countries, combating childhood obesity here in the United States and working to empower girls and women around the world.”
Although Qatar has been criticized for infringement of human rights, it has also sought credibility in the West through philanthropy.
The government-linked Qatari agency that is organizing the 2022 FIFA World Cup was also a sponsor of the Clinton Global Initiative in 2013, with the head of the committee appearing onstage with Bill Clinton to discuss efforts to help improve agriculture and feed the hungry with technology designed to cool soccer stadiums.
The moment provided a bit of Clinton-blessed legitimacy for the Qataris at a time when allegations were swirling that they had won the bid to host the World Cup through bribery. The Qataris have always denied those allegations.
The 2008 ethics agreement had been hashed out by top aides for President Obama and Clinton Foundation officials. The agreement provided an avenue for the foundation to accept donations from foreign governments that had never given before or were increasing the size of their donations. Those donations were to be submitted to the State Department for vetting. But State Department officials have said the process was never used.
A foundation official indicated that Qatar’s 2012 gift did not represent an increase in the nation’s giving that required State Department approval.
The Clinton Foundation has acknowledged that it accepted one gift that should have been vetted and approved by the State Department — $500,000 from Algeria to assist Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010.
The foundation has said it will cease accepting donations from foreign governments or individuals and from corporations if Hillary Clinton is elected president. But the emails, hacked from the account of the Clinton campaign’s chairman, John Podesta, show internal anxiety for months about whether ties to the foundation could be politically problematic for the Democratic presidential nominee.
One email from 2014, six months before the formal launch of Clinton’s presidential campaign, showed that her soon-to-be-named campaign manager was already grappling with how to deal with Clinton’s ties to the organization.
“One question that is specific to the Foundation is whether it will still have and/or use her name next year?” Robby Mook wrote to Clinton’s longtime aide Cheryl Mills, who also served as an adviser to the charity. “Do you know what their plan is for that?”
Once called the William J. Clinton Foundation, the name was changed to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation after Hillary Clinton stepped down as secretary of state in 2013 and joined the organization’s board. Hillary Clinton left the board when her campaign began. Bill Clinton has indicated that he will leave the board as well if she is elected and the foundation will go by the name “the Clinton Foundation.”