It was not a good week for Hillary Clinton. Then again, Hillary Clinton hasn’t exactly had a good year. Nary a day goes by without a new story digging into her past, questioning her decision making, or uncovering some new scandal. Clinton invariably has an explanation—some more believable than others—but at some point they may not matter. At some point the public sees so much smoke that it’s impossible to believe that there’s not a fire.
The biggest story this week comes from the New York Times, which dug into the relationship between Clinton’s treatment of Russia during her time as Secretary of State and the country’s donations to the Clinton Foundation. The bones of the story are this: Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra began buying up uranium mines—including 20 percent of the United States’ reserves—under a company named Uranium One. In 2008, Giustra donated $31.3 million the Clinton Foundation, the same year that he sold a majority stake in his company to Rosatom, the Russian Atomic Agency – a deal that required sign off by the Clinton State Department. The Times reports:
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.
Uranium One’s chairman wasn’t the only one to make donations to the Clinton Foundation. The story goes on to say that “a constellation of people with ties to Uranium One or UrAsia” donated between $1.3 million and $5.6 million to the Foundation. The goal of these enormous donations was not purely charitable, it was an attempt to purchase influence, to sway the decision-making of a key player in the decision over whether the deal could move forward. As one Foundation insider said candidly, “Why do you think they are doing it – because they love them?”
To add to the sense of impropriety, Reuters reported this week that the Clinton Foundation is refiling at least five annual tax returns because of errors in reporting donations from foreign governments. In 2010, 2011 and 2012 the Foundation reported to the IRS that they did not receive any funds from foreign governments, which Reuters calls a “dramatic fall-off from the tens of millions of dollars in foreign government contributions reported in preceding years.”
A separate report from the Washington Post digs into another avenue for companies and foreign governments to exert influence in the Clinton statehouse: Bill Clinton’s speaking fees:
Bill Clinton was paid at least $26 million in speaking fees by companies and organizations that are also major donors to the foundation he created after leaving the White House, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records and foundation data.
The amount, about one-quarter of Clinton’s overall speaking income between 2001 and 2013, demonstrates how closely intertwined Bill and Hillary Clinton’s charitable work has become with their growing personal wealth.
Those donors include $250,000 paid by the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, a group that included Etsilat, a telecommunications company whose majority owner is the government of the United Arab Emirates. And $250,000 for a speech to the Global Business Travel Association, of which Boeing was a proposed sub-sponsor. The Post report shows that during a “2009 trip to Russia, Hillary Clinton made a personal pitch for a state-owned airline to buy Boeing jets.”
None of these reports are a smoking gun, but they do raise difficult questions that the Clinton campaign will have to answer. At some point, and it feels like it will be soon, the answers start to become drowned out by the sheer amount of questions swirling about Clinton’s behavior. It’s what we saw in the 1990s when the Clinton White House was trying to fend off stories about Monica Lewinsky, Travelgate, Whitewater, shady stock dealings, the list goes on and on.
“It’s the Clinton way: raking in millions from foreign governments behind closed doors while making promises about transparency that they never intended to keep,” said Carly Fiorina, a potential Republican presidential candidate. “Have we had enough of a ruling political class that doles out favors to the wealthy and well connected few?”
Hopefully, the answer is ‘yes.’