Where there is smoke there is fire. That seems to be the idiom of choice for those assessing the accusations and intrigue swirling around the Clinton Foundation and its use of foreign cash. But ultimately the question is how the fire was started. Did Hillary carelessly drop a match onto a dry forest floor, and is now as surprised as anyone to look back and see it ablaze? Or were Bill and Hillary furiously rubbing sticks together looking for a spark? Scrubbed of the metaphor: Was there a quid pro quo?
The debate over that question is sure to become more pitched in the wake of news reports about the Clinton Global Initiatives decision to convene a lavish meeting in Morocco, hosted by one of the world’s most controversial mining companies. ABC News reports:
The Moroccan government-owned mining company OCP operates in disputed international territory in a remote part of the Saharan Desert and the firm has been criticized for removing the resources without adequately compensating the impoverished people who live there.
“Any time the human rights of a population are systematically suppressed in this type of way it’s a serious concern, and I think it’s worthy of attention,” said David McKean, who has studied the issue for the RFK center.
OCP is paying $1 million to help host the prestigious event and throw a private cocktail reception, to the dismay of human rights activists.
The issue focuses around the Western Sahara, a sparsely populated area that has long and bloody history of violence between local Sahrawis, who want to be independent of Morroco, and a Moroccan government that has consistently stymied the Sahrawis hoped-for referendum. The Morrocan government, who does not want to lose control of the valuable OCP mine has sought legitimacy by developing Western allies, the United States chief among them.
Kenneth Vogel, writing for POLITICO Magazine, writes that Bill Clinton is a friend of the Moroccan royal family, attending the funeral of King Hassan II and welcoming his successor, and son Mohammad VI, to the throne by calling him “one of the voices of a new generation of Arab leaders . . . promoting democracy, lifting those left behind, touching the hearts of your people.” The families went on to develop a close relationship that sometimes blurred the lines between friendly assistance and political influence.
Indeed, the POLITICO story details the actions Hillary Clinton took to align U.S. policy with Morocco, even going so far as to undermine President Obama’s desire to settle the Sahara dispute. When Clinton left her post as a Secretary of State the Morrocan government recognized they had lost “any ally that will be difficult to replace” and predicted the need for “a new strategy, both aggressive and enterprising in order to confirm the current U.S. position on the Sahara issue. . . “ The next year the OCP donated between $1 million and $5 million and ramped up their lobbying efforts by, among other things, hiring Justin Gray on a $25,000 a month retainer in the same month he was named as a board member for the pro-Clinton super-PAC, Priorities USA.
Did the Clinton’s long relationship with the Moroccan government impact Clinton’s stance as Secretary of State? Were the OCP’s financial contributions to the Clinton Foundation intended to curry access and favor should Hillary win the presidency? It’s nearly impossible to firmly prove the existence of a quid pro quo unless one of the parties is willing to admit that they’re corrupt, but it strains credulity to think that one or both of the parties didn’t know they were buying or selling influence.
Sadly, this isn’t the first report of international corporations and foreign governments donating vast sums of cash to work their way into the Clinton’s sphere. April was dominated by stories of a mining company that donated heavily to the Clinton Foundation at the same time the company was seeking a deal with the Russian government that would have required approval from Hillary Clinton’s State Department. And just last week we learned that donations to the Clinton Foundation among Fortune 100 companies were heavily concentrated among firms lobbying the State Department.
These are unlikely to be the last revelations to come out of the Clinton Foundation. Controversy and scandal is inevitable when you mix the power of the Clintons, the money of foreign governments, a conduit like the Clinton Foundation, and the spotlight of a presidential run.
The question is that when we put these events together do they make Hillary Clinton just a naïve player who didn’t stop to think about the intertwinement of money and politics, or a corrupt influence peddler who used her position to enrich her family? It’s a question we’re unlikely to definitively answer.