The Associated Press released a story showing that “[m]ore than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money … to the Clinton Foundation.” The report raised serious ethical questions about Clinton’s activities relating to the Clinton Foundation. Donald Trump seized on the story saying at a rally in Austin: “It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins.”
The AP’s report is not an isolated case. International Business Times reporter David Sirota listed over a dozen investigative reports about the Clinton Foundation that raise ethical questions about the Foundation. There were arms deals to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Russia now owns up to one-fifth of all uranium production in the United States after donations flowed into the Foundation.
The Clinton campaign and several media pundits rushed to defend the former Secretary of State. “There was no quid pro quo,” said Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Vox writer Matthew Yglesias opines that “[t]he story is still that there’s no story” and that it was “full of arbitrary math, sensationalistic tweets, and strange insinuations.” Joy Reid calls it a “faux outrage” and “a movable feast of innuendo.”
Quid pro quo (the direct exchange of favors for cash) cannot be proven without a special prosecutor conducting a thorough investigation on the matter. However, there is enough evidence that Clinton has breached ethics that she signed and agreed to.
Hillary Clinton Committed To High Standards – Standards She Didn’t Keep
Hillary Clinton recognized back in 2008 that her ties with the Clinton Foundation might appear as a conflict of interest. Clinton signed a letter to the Deputy Legal Adviser and Designated Agency Ethics Official at the State Department. This letter stated that she is “committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct for government officials.” In the letter Clinton understands that even the “appearance of conflict” is an issue, so she promised to take significant steps to avoid such cases:
To avoid even the appearance of a conflict, my husband and I are also voluntarily taking steps to go above and beyond the requirements of the law and ethics regulations…
Clinton then promised to recuse herself when her impartiality could be questioned:
I will recuse myself from participation on a case by case basis in any particular matter in which, in my judgment, I determine that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question my impartiality, unless I have been authorized to participate.
Furthermore, the Obama administration entered into a formal agreement with the Clinton Foundation. The agreement was “designed to establish greater transparency and predictability with regard to the activities of the Clinton Foundation in the context of Senator Clinton’s service as Secretary of State.” The agreement stated: (emphasis mine)
WHEREAS, The Parties also seek to ensure that the activities of the Foundation, however beneficial, do not create conflicts or the appearance of conflicts for Senator Clinton as Secretary of State.
WHEREAS the Parties have agreed to a set of protocols that would apply to the Foundation’s activities to supplement any existing State Department protocols for managing conflicts of interests, and the appearance of conflicts of interest, as determined by the State Department’s designated agency ethics official.
WHEREAS, the Parties seek to memorialize the mutually agreeable protocols related to the activities of the Foundation during the period in which Senator Hillary Clinton serves in the Obama Administration.
These facts should stand out. Hillary Clinton did not adhere to the standards that she and the Obama administration agreed to before she was confirmed as Secretary of State.
Democrats’ Narrow Definition and Normalization of Corruption is Alarming
Clinton’s apologists who claim that there was no quid pro quo are not only missing the point. They are setting a very dangerous standard for what is deemed as ethical or corruptive.
Supreme Court Justice Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion on the controversial Citizens United ruling which was joined by three other judges. He warned: (emphasis mine)
On numerous occasions we have recognized Congress’ legitimate interest in preventing the money that is spent on elections from exerting an “‘undue influence on an officeholder’s judgment’” and from creating “‘the appearance of such influence,’” beyond the sphere of quid pro quo relationships. Id., at 150; see also, e.g., id., at 143–144, 152–154; Colorado II, 533 U. S., at 441; Shrink Missouri, 528 U. S., at 389. Corruption can take many forms. Bribery may be the paradigm case. But the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind. And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf. Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics.
Hillary Clinton has committed to overturning the disastrous Citizens United because it would “protect against the undue influence of billionaires and special interests.” In other words, Clinton agrees that large donations can influence politicians even if it’s not in the form of quid pro quo.
What is more alarming is how many Democrats and Clinton supporters appear to agree with Clinton’s narrow definition of corruption. They claim that without hard evidence of quid pro quo, it’s just an issue of bad “optics” at worst. That’s why Clinton’s focus on the necessity of hard evidence of quid pro quo is “tone deaf” and “deadly” to the cause of fighting big money in politics, according to Harvard Professor of Law Lawrence Lessig.
AP Report Does Raise Ethical Questions
The harsh criticism of the Associated Press report by several pundits prompted the organization to release a statement defending the report. There are real ethical questions about Clinton’s dealing with Clinton Foundation.
The AP report shows that Clinton met with at least 85 of 154 people from private interests. Clinton apologists argue that it’s misleading because it ignores all the public officials that she met with, and thus conflating the numbers significantly. But Clinton’s meetings with public officials are a normal part of her daily job at the State Department. The AP correctly tried to analyze who Clinton chose to meet with that are from private interests. Also, whether these individuals gained such access as a result of donating to the Clinton Foundation. The Foundation is meant to be a charity, and not a conduit to sell access or gain political favors. The fact that more than half of those individuals were Clinton Foundation donors cannot be explained as coincidence. It is clear evidence of selling access.
Even Vox’s Matthew Yglesias who heavily criticized the AP report admits: “I wouldn’t be surprised if there is someone, somewhere whom Clinton met with whom she wouldn’t have met with had that person not been a Clinton donor of some kind.”
I will let Justice Stevens explain to Yglesias and other Democrats why this is a form of corruption:
Corruption can take many forms. Bribery may be the paradigm case. But the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind. And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf.