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—February 1, 2013: While Clinton is secretary of state, tens of millions of foreign donations are given to a branch of the Clinton Foundation, yet are never submitted to State Department lawyers for review.

Ira Magaziner (Credit: Scott Kingsley)

Ira Magaziner (Credit: Scott Kingsley)

The branch is the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI). Just before Clinton became secretary of state, an agreement was signed between the Clinton Foundation and the Obama White House in order to prevent conflict of interest problems with Clinton’s new position. During these years, the CHAI has a budget of over $100 million a year, making it worth nearly 60 percent of all of the Clintons’ charities. The agreement with the White House not only specified transparency rules that were ignored, but also prohibited any significant increase in foreign government giving over previous yearly levels. Yet foreign government grants to CHAI increases from $27 million in 2010 to $56 million in 2013.

In 2015, the CEO of CHAI, former Hillary Clinton adviser Ira Magaziner, will respond to some of the omissions, but will “decline to explain why no part of the pact [with the White House] was ever activated.” (The Boston Globe, 4/30/2015)

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)

January 1, 2010: The Clinton Foundation incorrectly lists no donations whatsoever from foreign governments in its yearly tax returns.

These three years are the only full fiscal years during Clinton’s term as secretary of state. In the immediately previous years, foreign governments donated tens of millions of dollars every year.

In 2015, Reuters will report that in fact foreign governments did continue to give tens of millions each year during this time. After Reuters discovers the discrepancies, the Clinton Foundation will acknowledge the oversight and claims it will refile at least five years of tax returns to fix it.

However, the Clinton campaign will also call allegations of corruption in the Clinton Foundation “absurd conspiracy theories.” (Reuters, 4/23/2015)

January 14, 2010: Algeria makes a large donation to the Clinton Foundation in violation of the Foundation’s rules, while Algeria is heavily lobbying Clinton’s State Department.

Clinton and Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika meet in Algiers, Algeria, on October 29, 2012. (Credit: US Embassy Algiers)

Clinton and Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika meet in Algiers, Algeria, on October 29, 2012. (Credit: US Embassy Algiers)

Around January 14, 2010, the Algerian government donates $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation. Algeria has never donated to the foundation before, which means this is a violation of the 2008 “memorandum of understanding” between the foundation and the Obama White House, which prohibited new or increased donations from foreign governments as long as Clinton is the secretary of state.

The donation is direct aid to assist relief efforts just days after a large earthquake in Haiti that killed thousands. It also coincides with a spike in Algeria’s lobbying visits to the State Department. In 2010, Algeria spends $400,000 lobbying US officials on Algeria’s human rights record and US-Algeria relations. (The Washington Post, 2/25/2015

The next year, Clinton’s State Department will approve a 70% increase in military export authorizations to Algeria, despite continued issues with the country’s human rights records. For the first time, the department will authorize the sale of almost 50,000 items classified as “toxicological agents, including chemical agents, biological agents and associated equipment.” The sale of US military weapons to Algeria is $2.4 billion, triple what it was in the last four years of the previous Bush administration. (The International Business Times, 5/26/2015)

In June 2015, shortly after the Algerian donation is finally made public, former President Bill Clinton will comment on it, “[Critics] said, ‘Oh you got $500,000 from Algeria at very same time they were lobbying the State Department.’ Those two facts are accurate but if you put them back-to-back they are incredibly misleading. Here’s why: I never considered that the Algerians gave me the money.” (The International Business Times, 5/26/2015) He will add, “Two days after the Haiti earthquake…there were very few countries in the world I would not accept from for help to Haiti. […] [T]here may be a thing or two that I would change, but the basic idea, I think it is right. I still think it is the right thing to do.” (CNN, 6/11/2015)

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)

March 4, 2015: A non-profit watchdog suggests Clinton hid her emails because her government work and Clinton Foundation work was intertwined.

John Wonderlich (Credit: Personal Democracy Media)

John Wonderlich (Credit: Personal Democracy Media)

The New York Times reports that a Clinton spokesperson has declined to comment on Clinton’s “use of clintonemail.com for matters related to the Clinton Foundation, which has received millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments.”

However, John Wonderlich, policy director of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates transparency in government, comments, “It seems her intent was to create a system where she could personally manage access to her communications” both relating to her secretary of state work and the Clinton Foundation. “Given all the power she had as secretary of state, a lot of that work would be jumbled together. Her presidential ambitions and the family foundation would be wrapped up technically in email.” (The New York Times, 3/4/2015)

April 19, 2015: The Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (CGEP), a Canadian affiliate of the Clinton Foundation, has over 1,000 undisclosed donors, and the amount they have given is unknown.

Bill Clinton (left) and Frank Giustra (right) in 2010. (Credit: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

Bill Clinton (left) and Frank Giustra (right) in 2010. (Credit: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

Bloomberg News calls this news report a “politically explosive revelation…because the Clinton Foundation promised to disclose its donors as a condition of Hillary Clinton becoming secretary of state.” In December 2008, just before Clinton took office, the Clinton Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Obama White House promising to reveal its donors. This agreement explicitly included the CGEP, so this revelation shows the agreement was not upheld.

Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra, who cofounded the CGEP with former President Bill Clinton, says, “We’re not trying to hide anything. […] All of the money that was raised by CGEP flowed through to the Clinton Foundation—every penny—and went to the [charitable] initiatives we identified.”

Giustra and the Clinton Foundation assert that Canadian law prevents them from revealing the CGEP’s donors. However, Bloomberg News reports, “Canadian tax and privacy law experts were dubious of this claim.” Len Farber, former director of tax policy at Canada’s Department of Finance, says, “There’s nothing that would preclude them from releasing the names of donors. It’s entirely up to them.” (Bloomberg News, 4/19/2015)

In November 2015, a Harper’s Magazine article will claim that the CGEP is actually a “slush fund” which has allowed politically toxic foreign contributors to anonymously donate money to the Clinton Foundation, with the hopes of influencing Clinton while she was secretary of state. (Harper’s Magazine, 11/17/2015)

May 15, 2015: The Clinton Foundation announces that it will place new limits on its fundraising activities.

In the wake of numerous critical news reports, and just days after Hillary Clinton announced her second presidential campaign, the foundation says that it will limit foreign government donations to six countries that have already funded Clinton Foundation programs: Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. Other countries that donated in the last year, including Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, are not included. The foundation also says it will suspend its future overseas conferences. (Politico, 4/15/2015)

The foundation placed voluntary limits on itself in 2008 shortly before Hillary became secretary of state, but those limits were secretly violated in a number of ways.

May 21, 2015: The Clinton Foundation confirms that it received millions in previously unreported payments by foreign governments and corporations for speeches given by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The foundation won’t give the exact amount, but it is somewhere between 12 and 26 million dollars. Foundation officials say the income was not disclosed publicly because it was considered revenue, rather than donations. CNN calls this “the latest in a string of admissions from the foundation that it didn’t always abide by a 2008 ethics agreement to disclose its funding sources publicly.” (CNN, 5/21/2015)

Autumn 2015: State Department investigators issue a subpoena to the Clinton Foundation.

They are “seeking documents about the charity’s projects that may have required approval from the federal government during Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state,” according to the Washington Post. The subpoena includes a request for records about Huma Abedin, “a longtime Clinton aide who for six months in 2012 was employed simultaneously by the State Department, the foundation, Clinton’s personal office, and a private consulting firm with ties to the Clintons.” Steve Linick, the State Department’s inspector general, is behind the subpoena.

In February 2016, the Post will report that the “full scope and status of the inquiry” is not clear. Inspector general investigative powers are limited. For instance, they can obtain documents, but they cannot compel testimony. (The Washington Post, 2/11/2016)

March 9, 2016: Attorney General Lynch shows no interest in the Clinton Foundation’s foreign donors.

Senator Thom Tillis (Credit: NC Political News)

Senator Thom Tillis (Credit: NC Political News)

Senator Thom Tillis (R) asks Attorney General Loretta Lynch if the Justice Department is looking into whether Bill and/or Hillary Clinton took funds from foreign governments while Hillary served as secretary of state. Presumably this refers to the Clinton Foundation, which accepted millions of dollars from foreign governments during that time. Lynch replies, “I’m not aware of any other issue along the lines of what you have outlined.” (Politico, 3/9/2016)