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)

December 17, 2008: The Clinton Foundation’s donor list includes foreign governments as well as business leaders.

Clinton pays an official visit to King Abdullah, in Saudi Arabia, on March 30, 2012. (Credit: Reuters)

Clinton pays an official visit to King Abdullah, in Saudi Arabia, on March 30, 2012. (Credit: Reuters)

Since it began in 1997, the Clinton Foundation had never revealed who its donors were, as it is not legally required to do so. But on this day, with conflict of interest an increasing issue due to Hillary Clinton about to become President Obama’s secretary of state, the foundation releases its list of donors for the first time. Over 200,000 people and entities gave over $500 million to the foundation since it was created. Some of these donations do show conflict of interest concerns, especially in relation to Hillary’s new secretary of state role.

In 2015, the Washington Post will report that the 2008 list of donors “included foreign governments, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which could ask the State Department to take their side in international arguments. And it included a variety of other figures who might benefit from a relationship—or the appearance of a relationship—with the secretary. A businessman close to the ruler of Nigeria. Blackwater Training Center, a controversial military contractor. And dozens of powerful American business leaders, including some prominent conservatives, such as Rupert Murdoch.” Additionally, “It appeared that some wealthy donors—who traveled with [Bill] Clinton or attended his events—also had made valuable business connections at the same time.” For instance, Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra “attended Clinton-related events and met the leaders of Kazakhstan and Colombia, countries where he would later make significant business deals.” (The Washington Post, 6/2/2015) (The New York Times, 12/18/2008)

Former US Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt says donations from “countries where [the US has] particularly sensitive issues and relations” will invariably raise conflict of interest concerns. “The real question is to what extent you can really separate the activities and influence of any husband and wife, and certainly a husband and wife team that is such a powerhouse.”

Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson says the disclosure of donors should ensure that there would be “not even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” (The New York Times, 12/18/2008)

January 21, 2009—February 1, 2013: During Clinton’s four years as secretary of state, the State Department dramatically increases the sale of military weapons to countries that are large donors to the Clinton Foundation.

Huma Abedin and Clinton on their way to meet with Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in June 2011. (Credit: The Associated Press)

Huma Abedin and Clinton on their way to meet with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in June 2011. (Credit: The Associated Press)

The department has to authorize all such sales, and can turn them down for a variety of reasons, such as documented human rights abuses in those countries. But the department authorizes $151 billion in military sales to the 16 countries that are large donors to the foundation, a 143% increase to those nations compared to the last four years of the Bush administration.

By comparison, military sales to all countries, including those countries, increase 80% during the same time period. US defense contractors also donate heavily to the Clinton Foundation during this time, as well as paying for speeches given by Bill Clinton.

Many countries the State Department approves for these sales are also criticized by the department for various problems such as corruption, political repression, and poor cooperation on terrorism. Such countries include Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. The 16 large donor countries give between $54 million and $141 million combined to the Clinton Foundation during this time, as well as paying big speaking fees to Bill Clinton.

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the non-profit Campaign Legal Center, will later say, “The word was out to these groups that one of the best ways to gain access and influence with the Clintons was to give to this foundation. This shows why having public officials, or even spouses of public officials, connected with these non-profits is problematic.”

Gregory Suchan, who was a State Department official for over 30 years, will say that while foreign governments and defense contractors may not have made donations to the foundation exclusively to influence weapons sales, they were clearly “looking to build up deposits in the ‘favor bank’ and to be well thought of.” (The International Business Times, 5/26/2015)

January 21, 2009—2014: While secretary of state, Clinton supports international business deals that benefit Boeing, a US-based airplane manufacturing company.

A $30 billion agreement was made on December 30, 2010, to sell advanced F-15SA Strike Eagle fighter jets (pictured) to Saudi Arabia. (Credit: The Wall Street Journal)

A $30 billion agreement was made on December 30, 2010, to sell advanced F-15SA Strike Eagle fighter jets (pictured) to Saudi Arabia. (Credit: The Wall Street Journal)

Meanwhile, Boeing and the foreign countries involved in the deals donate to the Clinton Foundation and pay for speeches given by Bill Clinton.

  • In early 2009, Clinton begins working with Boeing to open up new business in Russia. Later in the year, Clinton visits Russia and makes what she describes as a “shameless pitch” to a Russian airline to buy Boeing passenger jets. In 2010, Boeing gets the deal, selling 50 jets worth $3.7 billion.
  • In 2009, China is preparing to host the 2010 world’s fair. However, it seems the US exhibit promoting US businesses will have to be cancelled, since the private fundraising efforts are going poorly. A State Department official warns that there likely will be “extremely widespread” consequences to both diplomatic and commercial interests if the US effort fails. Emails show that Clinton and other State Department officials push Boeing and other US companies to donate, and Boeing eventually gives $2 million, helping make the exhibit a success. US exposition organizer Nick Winslow will later say that he didn’t feel any political pressure, but, “Knowing that it was important to the State Department, did that help? Of course it did.”
  • In August 2010, Boeing donates $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation to support education projects in Haiti.
  • In February 2011, Boeing wins a $35 billion tanker-refueling contract for the US Air Force. Clinton had supported the bid. When she hears Boeing won, she writes in an email, “I’m pleased.”
  • In 2011, the State Department approves a series of weapons deals between Boeing and the government of Kuwait. For instance, Boeing is the prime contractor in a $690 million deal to give Kuwait military transport planes.
  • Later in 2011, Bill Clinton is paid $175,000 by the Kuwait America Foundation for a speech. Boeing is a sponsor of the event. Kuwait also continues to donate millions to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary is secretary of state.
  • In late 2011, Clinton’s State Department approves an enormous weapons deal for Saudi Arabia. A consortium of American defense contractors led by Boeing will deliver $30 billion worth of advanced fighter jets to that country, including 84 new F-15 fighter jets built by Boeing. The deal takes place despite strong opposition from Israel, as well as concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and lack of democracy. But according to a State Department official, Clinton made the deal a personal “top priority.”
  • Saudi Arabia is prohibited from donating money to the Clinton Foundation during her time as secretary of state as part of a deal Clinton signed with the White House in 2008. But in previous years, the Saudi government gave at least $10 million to foundation. Additionally, private Saudi citizens and Saudi royals give millions to the foundation while she is in office. Then the Saudi government resumes donating to the foundation after she leaves office.
  • Boeing International President Shephard Hill (left) speaks alongside Hillary Clinton in Shanghai, China, on May 22, 2010. (Credit: Getty Images)

    Boeing International President Shephard Hill (left) speaks alongside Hillary Clinton in Shanghai, China, on May 22, 2010. (Credit: Getty Images)

    In early 2012, the State Department helps Boeing secure major deals in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

  • In July 2012, Boeing pays Bill Clinton $250,000 for a speech.
  • In September 2012, Bill Clinton gives another speech sponsored by Boeing. He is paid $200,000.
  • In 2013, Boeing sponsored an event in St. Louis called Clinton Global Initiative University. It’s not clear how much Boeing donates, but it gives between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, and the event is part of the foundation’s work.

Lisa Gilbert, of the government integrity watchdog group Public Citizen, will later say that what the Clintons were doing likely was not illegal. However, it seems “unsavory.” (The Seattle Times, 3/21/2016Similar patterns can be seen with other US weapons manufacturers, like Lockheed, and other foreign governments, like Oman and Qatar. Lawrence Lessig, the director of Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics, will later say, “These continuing revelations raise a fundamental question of judgment. Can it really be that the Clintons didn’t recognize the questions these transactions would raise? And if they did, what does that say about their sense of the appropriate relationship between private gain and public good?” (The International Business Times, 5/26/2015)

April 3, 2009—February 17, 2011: Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, exchanges emails with Clinton at least 37 times.

Cherie Blair (Credit: Neil Hall / Reuters)

Cherie Blair (Credit: Neil Hall / Reuters)

Blair and Clinton communicate like friends, although sometimes politics could be involved, such as when Blair asks Clinton to meet with Qatari royal Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned. (The New York Times, 7/31/2015) (US Department of State) The emails are unusual because Clinton almost never sends or receives emails directly with any foreigners while she is secretary of state. In fact, Clinton claims she only exchanged one email with any foreign official. (The New York Times, 3/10/2015)

April 16, 2012: The government of Qatar promises $1 million to Bill Clinton, which could be a violation of the Clinton Foundation’s ethics violation with the Obama Administration.

Amitabh Desai (Credit: Social Miami)

Amitabh Desai (Credit: Social Miami)

Amitabh Desai, director of foreign policy for the Clinton Foundation, writes in an email to other foundation officials, that he met with Qatar’s ambassador to the US four days earlier, on April 12, 2012. The ambassador is Mohammed Bin Abdullah Bin Mutib Al Rumaihi, who just assumed that position several weeks earlier. (Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12/26/2013) (WikiLeaks, 10/13/2016)

He summarizes that Al Rumaihi “Would like to see WJC [former President William Jefferson Clinton] ‘for five minutes’ in NYC [New York City], to present $1 million check that Qatar promised for WJC’s birthday in 2011.”

The assistant to the Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdullah Bin Mutib Al-Rumaihi attends a foriegn ministers meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on March 9, 2015. Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called for the creation of a unified Arab force to battle the spread of Islamic extremist groups.  AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMED EL-SHAHED        (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)

Qatar Ambassador Mohammed Bin Abdullah Bin Mutib Al-Rumaihi (Credit: Mohamed el-Shahed / Agence France Presse / Getty Images)

Additionally, “Qatar would welcome our suggestions for investments in Haiti – particularly on education and health. They have allocated most of their $20 million but are happy to consider projects we suggest. I’m collecting input from CF [Clinton Foundation] Haiti team.”

The email is sent to foundation officials Douglas Band, Justin Cooper, Bruce Lindsey, Laura Graham, and Clinton advisor John Podesta. (WikiLeaks, 10/13/2016)

Two years later, on August 19, 2014, Clinton will comment in an email: “[W]e need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” (ISIL is also known as the terrorist group ISIS.) (WikiLeaks, 10/13/2016)

On October 14, 2016, the day after this email is made public by WikiLeaks, Reuters will report that this donation, if it took place, could be a major ethics breach. The donation takes place while Hillary Clinton is secretary of state, and the Clinton Foundation made an agreement with the Obama administration not to accept any increases in donations by foreign governments during that time. The email doesn’t specify that the donation was accepted, or if it went to the foundation or to Bill Clinton personally. Foundation records indicate the Qatar government did give over $1 million, but it isn’t clear when. When asked by Reuters if the donation was accepted by the foundation, a foundation spokesperson will decline to say. (Reuters, 10/14/2016)