Credit: Dave Clegg
Weekly Standard, THE MAGAZINE: From the September 5 Issue by Stephen F. Hayes:
As Bill Clinton entered the final year of his presidency, his aides put together a legacy-building trip to South Asia—the first visit to the region by a U.S. president since Jimmy Carter’s in 1978. Early drafts of the itinerary featured a notable exclusion: The president would visit India, an emerging ally, but had no plans to stop in neighboring Pakistan.
There were good reasons for this. Pervez Musharraf had seized power there in a military coup six months earlier. His regime was regarded as tolerant of Islamic radicals, perhaps even complicit in their attacks, and unhelpful on nuclear talks with India. Whatever the potential benefits to regional stability, a visit would be seen as legitimizing a troublemaker. Clinton had the support of many in the foreign policy establishment and his decision was popular among liberals in his party. In an editorial published February 18, 2000, the New York Times noted, “Pakistan has been lobbying hard in Washington”; the paper urged Clinton to stand firm, absent a return to civilian rule in the country and “concrete progress” on nukes and terror.
Four days later, Hillary Clinton weighed in. At a gathering in a private home on Staten Island, Clinton said she hoped her husband would be able to find time to visit Pakistan on his trip. That she spoke up on a matter of public controversy was interesting; where she did it was noteworthy.
Clinton was the guest of honor at a $1,000-per-plate fundraiser hosted by a group of prominent Pakistani doctors in New York, who acknowledged holding the dinner as part of that lobbying effort. The immediate beneficiary? Hillary Clinton, candidate for U.S. Senate. Organizers were told they’d need to raise at least $50,000 for her to show up. They did. The secondary beneficiary? Pakistan. Two weeks after Clinton told her hosts that she hoped her husband would do what they wanted him to do, the White House announced that Bill Clinton would, indeed, include Pakistan on his trip to South Asia.
Win, win, and win.
The White House naturally insisted that Hillary Clinton’s views had no bearing on her husband’s decision to change his itinerary. And a subsequent New York Times article about the curious sequence of events found “no evidence” she had prevailed upon the president to alter his plans. But that same article, published under the headline “Donating to the First Lady, Hoping the President Notices,” noted the “unique aspect” of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy: “While her husband still occupies the White House, people may seek to influence his policies by making donations to her Senate campaign.”
In fact, people did. The hosts of the event moved it up so that it might take place before a final decision had been made on the South Asian schedule. Suhail Muzaffar, one of two primary organizers of the fundraiser, told the paper: “‘We thought it went very well, in terms of the message and the timeliness of it, especially in terms of the president’s going to the region.” His cohost, Dr. Asim Malik, added: “I cannot deny that the fact that she’s the president’s wife makes a difference.”
A similar dynamic is at play in the growing controversy over Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation: People sought to influence her decisions as secretary of state by making donations to his foundation. And while we cannot yet offer definitive conclusions about the extent to which those efforts were successful, disclosures over the past several weeks make clear that Clinton and her top aides eagerly provided special access to Clinton Foundation donors—and, in some cases, provided that special access because they were Clinton Foundation donors.
Such conflicts of interest—perceived and real—should come as no surprise. They were the focus of Clinton’s cabinet nomination. “The main issue related to Senator Clinton’s nomination that has occupied the committee has been the review of how her service as secretary of state can be reconciled with the sweeping global activities of President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation,” said Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, moments after her nomination hearing was gaveled to order on January 13, 2009. “The core of the problem is that foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the secretary of state, although neither Senator Clinton nor President Clinton has a personal financial stake in the foundation.” The keys, Lugar said, will be transparency and preventing overlap between the work of the State Department and the Clinton Foundation. Large chunks of the hearing were devoted to an extended discussion about whether a Memorandum of Understanding drafted to make clear the lines between State and the foundation went far enough. Republicans wanted more assurances and a more detailed statement of the rules. Democrats, for the most part, were happy to leave things vague. Democrats won.
The recent revelations leave in tatters Clinton’s unequivocal claim from July: “There is absolutely no connection between anything that I did as secretary of state and the Clinton Foundation.”
There are, in fact, many connections.
In June 2009, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the crown prince of Bahrain, sought a meeting with Secretary Clinton. He initially made requests through normal diplomatic channels but they went unfulfilled. Khalifa, a Clinton Foundation donor, got creative. Doug Band, a longtime aide to Bill Clinton who helped create the Clinton Foundation, emailed Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary Clinton. Band noted that Khalifa, “a good friend of ours,” would be visiting Washington and was seeking a meeting with Secretary Clinton. Abedin responded, noting that she was aware of Khalifa’s requests made “through normal channels.” She told Band that her boss didn’t want to commit to a meeting.
Two days later, the situation had changed. Abedin emailed Band to inform him that Khalifa was on the schedule and would be seeing Secretary Clinton in Washington. “If u see him, let him know,” she emailed. “We have reached out thru official channels.”
Another email, this one from Dennis Cheng, a fundraiser at the Clinton Foundation, to Abedin at the State Department, reveals that Clinton invited Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, a high-dollar Clinton Foundation donor, to a reception at her home in 2012. When Clinton’s team was asked about her involvement with Pinchuk in 2014, her spokesman, Nick Merrill, told the New York Times that Clinton had never met Pinchuk and the Ukrainian “was never on her schedule” during her tenure at the State Department. (Cheng had been a colleague of Abedin at the State Department before moving to the Clinton Foundation.)
That same month, in June 2012, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, traveled to New York City to interview two candidates to lead the Clinton Foundation. Mills, Clinton’s top aide, appears to have had significant involvement with those at the highest levels of the Clinton Foundation. Laura Graham, chief operating officer of the Clinton Foundation, left 148 telephone messages for Mills between 2010 and 2012, according to State Department records obtained by Citizens United via Freedom of Information Act requests and first reported by James Rosen of Fox News. The tally covers only half of Clinton’s tenure at the State Department and does not include calls in which Graham and Mills connected. Still, the 148 messages from Graham were exponentially more than any other individual left for Clinton’s top aide.
Many of these recent revelations have come despite efforts by Clinton defenders to keep them from the public. The FBI last week turned over to the State Department nearly 15,000 emails it recovered during its investigation of Clinton’s private server. Many of them—”thousands,” according to FBI director James Comey—were “work-related” emails that Clinton claimed she had turned over to the State Department. On August 8, 2015, Clinton signed a declaration submitted to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., swearing “under penalty of perjury” that she’d directed all emails that “were or potentially were” work-related turned over to the State Department.
That plainly didn’t happen. Why not? Comey offered several explanations in his July 5 press conference announcing he wouldn’t be charging anyone in connection with the scandal. Perhaps they were lost in routine system purges of the kind that any email user might perform. Or maybe her lawyers mistook these thousands of “work-related” emails as “personal” because their search techniques weren’t as sophisticated as those used by the FBI.
While the FBI recovered thousands of work-related emails that Clinton failed to turn over, Comey reported that many others had been deleted. The FBI director acknowledged that while the FBI did not have “complete visibility” as to the contents of these emails or a thorough understanding of how they were permanently erased, he nonetheless offered his assurances that “there was no intentional misconduct” in the sorting of the emails.
If Comey’s explanations seemed generous when he made them, they seem even more charitable today. In his telling, Clinton’s failure to turn over thousands of work-related emails—at least some of which include evidence of coordination between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department that Clinton World was eager to keep secret—was merely the result of incompetence or bad luck. And the efforts her lawyers undertook to delete the others were unremarkable, benign. “We found no evidence that any of the additional work-related e-mails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them,” Comey said at his press conference. Yet moments later, Comey acknowledged: “They deleted all e-mails they did not return to State, and the lawyers cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.”
There may be a simple reason the FBI didn’t find evidence of intent: They didn’t ask. That’s the explanation Representative Trey Gowdy offered in an interview with Fox News on August 24. “I didn’t see any questions on the issue of intent,” Gowdy said, referring to the FBI’s notes from its interview with Secretary Clinton.
And the evidence the FBI collected, particularly with respect to how some of Clinton’s “personal” emails were deleted, indicates that questions about intent ought to have been among the first ones asked. FBI interviews with the techs responsible for erasing Clinton’s emails suggest that her team went to great lengths to ensure the messages would never be seen again. The Clinton team used a technology called “BleachBit” to permanently delete those emails. BleachBit, according to its website, allows users to “shred files to hide their contents and prevent data recovery” and “overwrite free disk space to hide previously deleted files.” The techs used additional tools to ensure those emails would be unrecoverable.
So Clinton, who took virtually no precautions to safeguard her emails—”personal” or “work-related”—while they sat on her server, went to great lengths to ensure that the emails she withheld from the State Department could never again be seen by anyone. She did this nearly two years following her departure from the State Department and only after she understood that the government was interested in seeing her emails. Seems like a lot to do to protect yoga schedules and emails about the grandkids.
The challenge for Clinton is simple: survive until November 8. So she’s avoiding the media—265 days and counting since her last press conference—and trying to offer reassurances about the Clinton Foundation.
There’s little reason to believe her. This is the same woman, after all, who promised during her nomination hearing seven years ago that she would take extraordinary measures to separate the foundation from her work at the State Department and do her best to “avoid even the appearance of a conflict.”
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.