May 22, 2016: Ethics experts suggest the Clintons should cut their ties with the Clinton Foundation if Hillary is elected president.

Stephen Gillers (Credit: New York University)

Stephen Gillers (Credit: New York University)

The New York Times reports that Bill and Hillary Clinton have indicated their relationship with the Clinton Foundation would remain basically unchanged if Hillary becomes the next president. However: “Ethics experts reject that answer. They say there wouldn’t be any way to avoid the appearance of conflicts if she wins the presidency.”

Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics expert at New York University School of Law, says, “If Bill seeks to raise large sums of money from donors who also have an interest in US policy, the public will rightly question whether the grants affected United States foreign policy.” He adds that ethics rules are “not merely to prevent bad behavior but to foster public trust in the integrity of government choices.”

Joel Fleishman, who ran a foundation and wrote a book on philanthropy, says the Clintons should “sever the relationship [with the foundation] completely and put it in the hands of independent trustees.” They also should pick a leader of “impeccable integrity and let it go its own way in raising money.” (The New York Times, 5/22/2016)

June 27, 2016: Former President Bill Clinton has an “accidental” meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, causing a political storm.

Headlines displayed on a photo capture of a CBS News report on June 27, 2016. (Credit: CBS News)

Headlines displayed on a photo capture of a CBS News report on June 27, 2016. (Credit: CBS News)

On the night of June 27, 2016, Clinton and Lynch are in separate airplanes at the international airport in Phoenix, Arizona. According to an account by Lynch two days later, Clinton walks uninvited from his plane to her plane and talks with her for about half an hour. On June 30, 2016, CBS News will report, “An aide to Bill Clinton says that he spotted her on the tarmac, but CBS News has been told that she was in an unmarked plane.” (CBS News, 6/30/2016)

Lynch will say: “He did come over and say hello, and speak to my husband and myself, and talk about his grandchildren and his travels and things like that. That was the extent of that. And no discussions were held into any cases or things like that.” However, this encounter causes what the New York Times calls a “political furor” and “storm,” because Bill Clinton’s wife Hillary is being investigated by the FBI.

Furthermore, the FBI is expected to make a recommendation to indict her or not “in the coming weeks,” according to the Times. If the FBI does recommend indictment, then the decision to actually indict or not will rest with Lynch. Thus, many Republican politicians and even some Democrats criticize Bill Clinton and Lynch simply for meeting at all during such a politically charged time.

  • Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump calls it “one of the big stories of this week, of this month, of this year.” He says it was a “sneak” meeting, exposing that Clinton’s possible indictment is already a rigged process.
  • Republican Senator John Cornyn says that as a lawyer and attorney general, Lynch “must avoid even the appearance” of a conflict of interest, and renews his call for a special prosecutor to take charge of the Clinton investigation instead of Lynch.
  • David Axelrod, President Obama’s former senior adviser, says he takes Clinton and Lynch at their word that their conversation didn’t touch on the FBI investigation, but that it was “foolish to create such optics.”
  • Democratic Senator Chris Coons says he is convinced Lynch is “an independent attorney general. But I do think that this meeting sends the wrong signal… I think she should have steered clear, even of a brief, casual, social meeting with the former president.”
    Senator Chris Coons (Credit: public domain)

    Senator Chris Coons (Credit: public domain)

  • White House spokesperson Josh Earnest refuses to say whether the meeting was appropriate or not.
  • The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch says the meeting creates the impression that “the fix is in” and calls on the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the meeting. (The New York Times, 6/30/2016) (The Hill, 6/30/2016) (CBS News, 6/30/2016)

New York University law school professor Stephen Gillers comments: “It was the height of insensitivity for the former president to approach the attorney general. He put her in a very difficult position. She wasn’t really free to say she wouldn’t talk to a former president. […] He jeopardized her independence and did create an appearance of impropriety going onto her plane.” He adds that the meeting “feeds the dominant narrative that the Clintons don’t follow the usual rules, that they’re free to have back channel communications like this one and that’s true even if we assume as I do that nothing improper was said.” (NPR, 6/30/2016)