December 12, 2008: The Clinton Foundation makes an agreement with the White House over conflict of interest issues.

Bruce Lindsey (Credit: Win McNamee / Reuters)

Bruce Lindsey (Credit: Win McNamee / Reuters)

In late 2008, when it becomes clear that newly elected President Obama will nominate Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state, the Clinton Foundation presents a very large conflict of interest problem. There is a particular concern that foreign governments could use donations to the foundation to influence the Clinton-led State Department.

As a result, on December 12, 2008, the foundation’s CEO Bruce Lindsey signs a memorandum of understanding with Valerie Jarrett, co-chair of Obama’s transition team. It allows governments which had previously donated to the foundation to continue to do so, but only at existing yearly levels. It details an ethics review process for new donating countries or countries that want to “materially increase” their support. However, it does not prohibit foreign countries with interests before the US government from continuing to give money to the foundation.

The Washington Post will later report, “Some of the donations came from countries with complicated diplomatic, military, and financial relationships with the US government, including Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman. Other nations that donated included Australia, Norway, and the Dominican Republic.” The Post will also note, “Foreign governments and individuals are prohibited from giving money to US political candidates, to prevent outside influence over national leaders. But the foundation has given donors a way to potentially gain favor with the Clintons outside the traditional political limits.”

The agreement will expire when Clinton ends her tenure as secretary of state in February 2013. (The Washington Post, 2/25/2015(US Senate, 12/18/2008) The agreement covers the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (CGEP), a Canadian offshoot of the Clinton Foundation that some will later call a “slush fund” for the Clintons. The agreement will be broken in the case of the CGEP, as the Clinton Foundation will not reveal the names of those who donated through the CGEP. (Bloomberg News, 4/19/2015(Harper’s Magazine, 11/17/2015) 

The agreement will also be broken in other aspects. For instance, in 2015 it will be reported that the foundation didn’t disclose any foreign donors to the public, despite that being stipulated in the agreement. It will also emerge that no punishment was spelled out if the agreement was violated. (The Boston Globe, 4/30/2015)

Early 2009: The State Department can’t find out if sponsors of Bill Clinton’s paid speeches donated to the Clinton Foundation.

Jim Thessin (Credit: public domain)

Jim Thessin (Credit: public domain)

When Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, the Clintons agreed with the White House that State Department ethics officials would review all offers for Bill Clinton to give paid speeches, to avoid potential conflicts of interest. When the first few speech requests come in, Jim Thessin, the department’s top ethics approver, writes in an email: “In future requests, I would suggest including a statement listing whether or not any of the proposed sponsors of a speaking event have made a donation to the Clinton Foundation and, if so, the amount and date.”

However, Politico will report in 2015, “released documents show no evidence that the question was addressed.” (Politico, 2/25/2015)

January 21, 2009: After Hillary Clinton becomes secretary of state, the speaking fees for her husband Bill Clinton dramatically increase.

Bill Clinton giving a $500,000 speech in Moscow, Russia, on June 29, 2010. (Credit: Renaissance Capital)

Bill Clinton giving a $500,000 speech in Moscow, Russia, on June 29, 2010. (Credit: Renaissance Capital)

According to ABC News in 2015, “Where he once had drawn $150,000 for a typical address in the years following his presidency, [Bill] saw a succession of staggering paydays for speeches in 2010 and 2011, including $500,000 paid by a Russian investment bank and $750,000 to address a telecom conference in China.” Furthermore, many of the groups paying him higher fees have interests pending before Hillary’s State Department. However, there is no direct proof that Hillary takes any direct action to benefit the groups paying her husband.

Before becoming secretary of state, she agreed to a process whereby State Department ethics officials would review and approve her husband’s speaking requests. But ABC News will report, “In practice, there were few if any instances where ethics officials inside the State Department asked the former president to refuse to accept payment for a speech.” (ABC News, 4/23/2015)

Shortly After February 1, 2013: The ethics agreement with the Clinton Foundation ends; donations from foreign governments increase.

Clinton at the main annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting, on September 22, 2014 in New York City. (Source: John Moore / Getty Images)

Clinton at the main annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting, on September 22, 2014 in New York City. (Source: John Moore / Getty Images)

As soon as Clinton’s term as secretary of state ends, the “memorandum of understanding” between the Clinton Foundation and the Obama White House also comes to an end. As a result, the Clinton Foundation resumes accepting increased donations from foreign governments. For instance, shortly after Clinton resigns, the foundation receives a $2 million donation from a conglomerate run by a member of China’s National People’s Congress.

The Wall Street Journal will report that news of such donations from foreign governments “prompted criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, who said it represented a conflict for a potential future president,” given the anticipation that Hillary Clinton would run for president again in 2016. (The Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2015

United Arab Emirates and Germany begin donating to the foundation for the first time, and other countries such as Saudi Arabia resume donating after holding off during Clinton’s time as secretary of state. (February 25, 2015)

February 25, 2015: Bill Clinton won’t tell the State Department how much he’s being offered to give speeches, making it difficult for the department to reject any offers.

Richard Painter (Credit: Harvard Center for Ethics)

Richard Painter (Credit: Harvard Center for Ethics)

Politico reports, “In hundreds of documents released to Politico under the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA], not a single case appears where the State Department explicitly rejected a Bill Clinton speech.” They raised serious questions about only two speech proposals. “Instead, the records show State Department lawyers acted on sparse information about business proposals and speech requests and were under the gun to approve the proposals promptly.”

The Clintons made a deal with the White House to require State Department ethics officials to give their approval of all of Bill Clinton’s paid speech offers. However, the deal didn’t require Clinton to reveal how much he would be paid for any speech, and he didn’t voluntarily disclose this, so the officials were unable to judge if he was being overpaid and thus essentially bribed. He also didn’t reveal potential conflicts of interests with those paying for the speeches, such as donations to the Clinton Foundation or other relationships with the Clintons.

Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer, says that since the department officials didn’t know the specific speech fees in advance, he doesn’t see how they could have fairly judged whether to approve the speech or not. “That would be a gap if they didn’t find out at all.” (Politico, 2/25/2015)