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 5, 2009: Clinton tells the State Department that she will go “above and beyond” the law and regulations to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest between the department and the Clinton Foundation.


Jim Thessin (Credit: American Airlines volvió a Paraguay)

Clinton writes a formal letter to Jim Thessin, who is a deputy legal adviser and “designated agency ethics official” for the State Department. In it, she states, “To avoid even the appearance of a conflict” of interest, she and her husband Bill Clinton are “voluntarily taking steps that go above and beyond the requirements of the law and ethics regulations with respect to [Bill’s] personal income earned from speeches and consulting as well as respect to the William J. Clinton Foundation and its initiatives.”

She goes on to list in detail more pledges to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Regarding the Clinton Foundation, she writes: “For the duration of my appointment as Secretary [of State] if I am confirmed, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which The William J. Clinton Foundation (or the Clinton Global Initiative) is a party or represents a party…”

She concludes with a catch-all, “Finally, 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…”  (US Senate, 1/5/2009)