The note to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton from liberal financier George Soros demanded “urgent attention from the highest levels of the U.S. government.” Clinton swiftly alerted a top aide to what she described as a “very forceful message which is good — and needed.”
The e-mail exchange, in which Soros warned of growing unrest in Albania, illustrates how Clinton interacted with major donors to her family’s causes during her tenure at the State Department, staying in touch with her political network before her 2016 run for the Democratic presidential nomination. And they show how these donors, some of them with interests before the U.S. government, gained high-level access to press their policy concerns inside the Clinton-led State Department.
Soros, a top contributor to the Clinton Foundation, was one of several major donors whose messages were disclosed by the State Department last week as part of the ongoing release of the former secretary’s e-mails. Other exchanges included references to entertainment mogul Haim Saban, who has said he would pay “whatever it takes” to propel Clinton to the White House in 2016, as well as other major Clinton Foundation donors such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, fashion industry executive Susie Tompkins Buell and Ukrainian steel magnate Viktor Pinchuk.
The e-mails that mention donors — numbering a few dozen out of the thousands of pages of messages released so far — do not show that financial supporters were able to alter policy decisions. But the dynamic points to one of the unusual aspects of Clinton’s record at the State Department. Because she and her family have raised so much money over the years from wealthy individuals and major corporations — for political campaigns as well as the sprawling global charity founded by her husband, former president Bill Clinton — her public business as secretary inevitably brought her in contact with private interests that helped boost her family’s philanthropy and income.
Republicans have accused Hillary Clinton of potential conflicts of interest in mixing her public and private work.
Clinton aides declined to comment for this article but have waved away such suggestions in the past. They have said that interactions with prominent players in the world of finance and politics are to be expected of a secretary of state and that there is no indication of any impropriety.
The e-mails show that, in some cases, donors were granted face-to-face contact with top officials.
Soros secured a meeting with Clinton in 2010 to discuss U.S. government funding for the American University of Central Asia, an educational institution that Soros helped support in the former Soviet Union.
Pinchuk, who has pledged more than $10 million to the Clinton Foundation in recent years, met with a top Clinton aide to speak on behalf of Ukraine’s strongman president and to try to soothe tensions with Washington over that country’s human rights record and its growing closeness with Russian President Vladimir Putin while resisting Europe.
“I wanted to tell you that I met with Pinchuk who was asked by [then-Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych to convey his strong continuing interest in integrating with Europe,” Melanne Verveer, the Clinton aide, wrote on Sept. 26, 2011, in an e-mail to Clinton.
The message acknowledged that the Ukrainian leader had “antagonized all sides in the last few weeks,” partly because of an upcoming trial of an opposition political leader. Verveer wrote after her conversation with Pinchuk that the Ukrainians are “looking for a way to get beyond” the human rights fallout from the trial.
It is not clear from the e-mails whether Clinton replied to Verveer. But the State Department pressed Yanukovych for changes until 2014, when he fled Kiev after uniformed marksmen fired on hundreds of demonstrators protesting his coziness with Putin and his refusal to join the European Union.
A spokesman for Pinchuk said the e-mail simply showed how the Ukrainian industrialist “tried to keep Ukraine’s European integration hopes alive during difficult times by talking to a wide range of Western diplomats, including Melanne Verveer,” whom he had known for some time.
Verveer was one of several close deputies who helped then-Secretary Clinton keep tabs on supporters. She had been Clinton’s chief of staff when she was first lady and was named by Secretary Clinton to be ambassador at large for global women’s issues.
Verveer told Clinton in 2010 about upcoming meetings with Gates, who along with his wife, Melinda Gates, is one of the biggest overall donors to the Clinton Foundation, providing more than $25 million.
In a November 2010 e-mail to Clinton, Verveer relayed details of an event held by designer Diane von Furstenberg, who along with her husband, Barry Diller, have provided about $80,000 to Clinton causes, according to a review of campaign and foundation records.
Verveer suggested that Clinton accept an award and speaking invitation offered from the couple’s foundation.
“I have no doubt you would be very warmly embraced and DVF and Barry are so fond of you,” Verveer wrote. The following year, Clinton received a “lifetime leadership award” from von Furstenberg’s foundation.
Other Verveer e-mails described support that Wal-Mart provided for a women’s entrepreneurship initiative that the Clinton-led State Department promoted. The Walton family, which founded the retail giant, is famously conservative. But it has always had a soft spot for Bill and Hillary Clinton, who served as governor and first lady when the Arkansas-based firm took off as an international retail power. Hillary Clinton was named to the Wal-Mart board in the 1980s, and the family and the company have supported Clinton campaigns and projects over the years.
Randy Hargrove, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said that the women’s empowerment forum was a “signature, priority initiative” for the company and that executives’ contacts with the Obama administration have extended well beyond Clinton.
Verveer wrote to Clinton in June 2011 to tell her that Buell, who has contributed more than $10 million to Clinton causes, had donated $200,000 to support a future international trade meeting in San Francisco.
“She’s thrilled it’s in SF and that you’re keynoting,” Verveer wrote. “She wants it to be wonderful for you (as we all do). I will go out in a few weeks and plan with her, but wanted you to know.”
The e-mails show that some communication with donors occurred through Thomas Nides, a senior aide who was deputy secretary for management and resources at the State Department.
“In my attempt to reach out,” Nides wrote in a September 2011 note to Clinton, he had “spoken to many of your friends.”
Nides’s message focused on Saban, the billionaire entertainment mogul and fierce pro-Israel advocate who has provided more than $2 million to Clinton campaigns through the years and more than $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.
“One person in particular wanted to know if you ask for me to call, Haim Saban,” Nides wrote. “I said of coarse [sic].”
An e-mail from Saban’s wife, Cheryl, with the subject line “Oh my GOD,” was forwarded in May 2011 to Clinton by aide Huma Abedin. The e-mail, originally addressed to an aide to former president Clinton and copied to Abedin, was entirely redacted in the copy released to the public last week, except for the words “We got back from Africa Thursday night.” Hillary Clinton responded with a one-word e-mail to Abedin: “nice.”
On Oct. 15, 2011, Abedin wrote an e-mail to Hillary Clinton about a call from “Haim,” apparently seeking her help in connecting him with Bill Clinton. “WJC wasn’t answering so I tried you,” Abedin wrote.
Nides declined to comment for this article. Neither Verveer nor Saban responded to requests for comment.
On Oct. 15, 2011, Nides passed along an e-mail from Andrew Tisch, an heir to the Loews fortune, who applauded a recent speech Clinton had made to the New York Economic Club and for which Tisch gave the introduction. “I heard nothing but praise for your remarks,” he wrote, telling Clinton that he and his family “became huge fans of yours at . . . Lynn de Rothschild’s parties.”
Over time, the Tisch and de Rothschild families provided six-figure contributions to Clinton causes, according to a review of Federal Election Commission and Clinton Foundation donor reports.
Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.