Bill Clinton’s Response To Reports About His Foundation Is About What You’d Expect

Former President Clinton doesn't seem to get it. Or, does he?

AFP E FACES 12 CLINTONS GOVERNMENT USA NY

The Clinton Foundation has been taking it on the chin of late. Just in the past two weeks, we’ve seen reports that have come out regarding failure to report donations from foreign sources to the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State, it’s relationship to a multinational deal involving a Russian uranium company, and other information that has come out in anticipation of the release of an upcoming book. Outside of terse statements from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and campaign surrogates, though there hasn’t been the kind of aggressive push back that typically comes from the Clinton’s in situations such as this, though. That changed today, thanks to former President Bill Clinton, but it’s unclear whether he actually did anything to help his wife’s cause:

Bill Clinton lashed out at critics of his family’s foundation, saying the group has never done anything “knowingly inappropriate” in accepting foreign donations, and insisting his high speaking fees are justified because, “I gotta pay our bills.”

Speaking with NBC News in Nairobi while on a Clinton Foundation trip to Africa, Clinton slammed what he called “political” attacks on the work of the foundation, a non-profit with a global focus that spans from obesity to climate change to economic opportunities.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we have never done anything knowingly inappropriate in terms of taking money to influence any kind of American government policy,” the former president said.

The interview aired one day before the release of the hotly anticipated book “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” by conservative author Peter Schweizer.

The bulk of the book’s allegations of questionable financial arrangements have trickled out in recent weeks, nagging Clinton’s fledgling White House campaign as the candidate and her team have combated accusations that foreign entities used donations to curry favor with Clinton while she was secretary of state.

Schweizer himself says he does not have “direct evidence” of any improper conduct by the Clintons, but says “the smoking gun is in the pattern of behavior.”

“I don’t want to get into the weeds here. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s perception,” Clinton said in the interview aired on Monday. “I asked Hillary about this and she said, ‘You know, no one’s ever tried to influence me by helping you. No one has even suggested they have a shred of evidence to that effect.'”

Bill Clinton’s defense of the foundation’s work was his fullest yet, and it may offer a preview of the role he will play during his wife’s campaign. It also highlighted some of the vulnerabilities of the power couple, who for decades have been accused of being tone deaf about money and of believing they play by a different set of rules.

Clinton said that although he is a wealthy man, he will not stop giving speeches, which reportedly come with fees that reach up to $500,000 or more.

“I gotta pay our bills,” he said. “And I also give a lot of it to the foundation every year.”

He also dismissed the notion that he and his wife don’t believe they have to abide by the rules that apply to everyone else. He said the problem is that they’re held to a higher standard.

“People should draw their own conclusions. I’m not in politics,” Clinton said. “All I’m saying is the idea that there’s one set of rules for us and another set for everybody else is true.”

Here’s the interview that aired this morning:

This, of course, is a typically Clintonian response that we have seen before in response to any of the number of reports and allegations that have been made about them, their business dealings, or their personal lives, over the past twenty-three years or more. Rather than directly responding to the allegations, most especially the seemingly irrebuttable claim that the Foundation failed to report thousands of foreign donations over the course of the four years that Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the former Clinton is engaging in an attack on the people making the charges themselves, and asserting that they are somehow held to different standards from other people. Given the fact that the Clinton’s have largely emerged victorious from every political scandal that has touched them since Bill put his hat in the ring in 1991, that last claim is somewhat laughable. Any other politician would have likely not survived any one of the stories that emerged about the Clintons, whether it’s Whitewater, the stories about Hillary’s astounding for an amateur success at trading highly risky cattle futures, the questions regarding the influence of health care industry lobbyists during the time that the Administration’s health care plan was being drafted behind closed doors, or Clinton’s personal life, never mind survived all of them and manged to leave office with approval ratings nearly as high as those Ronald Reagan had when he left office in 1989. Far from being unfairly scrutinized, one could argue that the Clintons have been incredibly lucky in the way they’ve managed to survive things that would have ended the career of any other politician.

Indeed, as Chris Cillizza notes, Clinton’s comments today demonstrate that he still doesn’t get it:

This is Bill Clinton in self-pitying mode; people treat us so unfairly and we do so much good and so on and so forth. Feeling bad for yourself is never an attractive look for a politician but especially in this case.  At issue is a family that includes the former president of the United States and the heavy favorite to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. By dint of those titles, the Clintons operate in a different space than normal people and even normal politicians.  Do they get more scrutiny than some? Sure. Do they get lots of benefits from their status? Absolutely yes.

The truth is that the Clinton Foundation, the nonprofit group that Bill, Hillary and Chelsea head, has been the main vehicle for Hillary and Bill Clinton’s activities since she left as secretary of state following the 2012 election. Given that, it makes perfect sense that the Clinton Foundation would be subject to questions — even if it hadn’t admitted to not adhering to its own established donation practices a few weeks ago.

Stories like this one by WaPo’s Roz Helderman, which details the relationship between the Clintons and a single donor who has given upwards of $100 million to the foundation, are totally fair game — and should be.

Bill Clinton, for some reason, doesn’t get that.

Unlike Cillizza, I don’t believe that former President Clinton doesn’t understand why the stories about the Clinton Foundation have become something more than just the latest Fox News/talk radio conspiracy theory about the Clinton. Whatever else you might say about him, Bill Clinton has demonstrated over the decades that he is an astute and talented politician and it would be quite surprising if he had actually convinced himself of the truth of what he’s saying. Instead, I would suggest that the former President realizes just how big a story the Clinton Foundation reports have the potential to become. Going forward it is obvious that Hillary Clinton intends to rely upon her time as Secretary of State as one of the main bulwarks of her campaign, and a demonstration of both her experience and of how she would act if she were elected President. The Clinton Foundation reports, though, tend to undermine that narrative because they bring the whole messy issue of personal integrity into the mix as well as reviving memories of all the old stories about the Clintons and the political mess that created for virtually the entire time that Bill Clinton was President. That’s why he’s trying to characterize it as an “unfair” attack against him and his family rather than something that needs to be dealt with on the merits. On some level, it’s as if he is trying to shame the reporters into not treating the allegations seriously and, most importantly, the fact that he granted his interview so that it would air on the day before the book that everyone has been talking about comes out cannot be considered to be coincidental. Obviously, the former President is trying to pre-empt the coverage that will inevitably come once the book comes out and, apparently, more allegations regarding the operation of the Clinton Foundation are made public.

In anticipation of the release of the book, Megan McArdle is somewhat surprised that the Clinton’s would let themselves get into this situation:

The great mystery that remains is how this could have happened.  The Clintons have known for a long while that Hillary would be running in 2016.  And they ought to have known that accepting foreign donations, from folks who wanted things from the State Department, would become a problem for her candidacy. They certainly should have been aware that funneling all of her State Department e-mails through a private server, and then destroying them, would create terrible optics for her campaign and fuel any subsequent scandals. Why, then, did two such tenacious, wily campaigners proceed with this nonsense?

It looks to me like the answer is that they somehow didn’t know the things that they should have known. They certainly act surprised. The campaign machine that used to blast away at incipient scandals with the white-hot fury of a thousand suns now lets them fester for weeks before offering a lame response: Hillary’s press conference about the e-mails gave critics more fodder, and Bill’s non-response response to questions about foundation finances is even worse.  The former president told NBC that he has to keep giving high-priced speeches all over the world because “I gotta pay our bills.” Coming from a man reputed to be worth tens of millions, who gave his daughter a multi-million-dollar wedding, this seems a bit … off.

Which makes me wonder if the famed Clinton campaign skills aren’t a little bit out of date.  The Clintons just don’t seem prepared for the modern media world and its tendency to relentlessly pry away at the smallest details.  In the end, this may be a bigger problem for the Clinton campaign than whatever Schweizer’s book reveals.

This is certainly an interesting question. As McArdle notes, it’s been obvious virtually from the moment that the 2008 campaign ended that Hillary Clinton would likely be a candidate for President again in 2016. She came close to winning the first time she ran, and neither the former President nor his wife come across as people willing to let an ambition like becoming the first husband and wife team to serve as President of the United States individually fall by the wayside. Additionally, when Hillary took office as Secretary of State in 2013 it was fairly obvious that the Clinton Foundation, and specifically the donations it receives from foreign sources, were a potential problem area. In fact, after it was clear that Barack Obama had won the Democratic nomination in 2008, reports were indicating that the Clintons waived off the idea of Hillary being considered as his running mate in no small part because of reluctance to open up their personal and Foundation finances up to the kind of vetting that consideration for that post would have necessitated. In any case, it was enough of an issue in 2013 that the Foundation and the Obama Administration entered into an agreement that was negotiated by some of the most high-profile attorneys in Democratic politics that was supposed to cover the issue of foreign donations during the time that Mrs. Clinton was in office at Foggy Bottom. Working again on the assumption that these are not dumb people, it’s somewhat puzzling that the Foundation was so lax in its reporting of foreign donations after the agreement was signed.

The same could be said about the other issue that continues to dog the Clinton campaign, Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for her official correspondence during the time that she was Secretary of State. To be completely honest about it, the explanation that she gave for doing this, that she didn’t want to have to use two different mobile devices for personal and official communications just doesn’t come across as credible. On top of that, the decision after she left office to use her personal aides to determine what constituted official rather than personal correspondence, and then delete from the server all of the emails not turned over to the State Department, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from a political point of view. Had Clinton simply used the State Department’s email system for her official correspondence, there would be no story here. Because she didn’t, and because her explanation for why she did it just doesn’t make much sense, it’s an issue that will not go away as long as she’s in the race. Given the Clinton’s political skills, you think they would have been able to anticipate that.

The Clinton’s have been the targets of many political attacks over the years, both fair and unfair, but this time they’ve really got nobody but themselves to blame.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Davebo says:

    Any other politician would have likely not survived any one of the stories that emerged about the Clintons, whether it’s Whitewater

    ROTFLMAO!!!!! Seriously Doug, is it some type of genetic family trait that blesses you with this level of cluelessness?

  2. and insisting his high speaking fees are justified because, “I gotta pay our bills.”

    I hear they were pretty poor after they left the White House.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    The Clinton’s have been the targets of many political attacks over the years, both fair and unfair

    Really…outside the hummer in the oval office, which ones were fair?
    Whitewater?
    Vince Foster?

    The entire Republican clown car gets down on their knees and kisses the rings of Adelson and the Kochs…but this smear is fair? Sorry…not even if every allegation is true is this “fair”. And it certainly does not reach the standard of political corruption established by McCutcheon.

  4. edmondo says:

    Bill Clinton lashed out at critics of his family’s foundation, saying the group has never done anything “knowingly inappropriate” in accepting foreign donations,<

    I'll bet that he "didn't have se with that woman" either.

  5. Tony W says:

    This is an issue because the Republicans say it’s an issue. And they say it is, because they have nothing of substance to add to the debate.

    If the Republicans want me to consider voting against Hillary Clinton, about whom I feel quite milque-toast at the moment, the need to point me to the substantive arguments coming from the clown car – but only the ones based on real facts, not made up ones.

    Frankly the far-too-left-wing-for-me Bernie Sanders has a better shot at my vote than any Republican because he has genuine policy disagreements that are based on reality and research and consideration of downstream effects. And Medicare for All Americans is pretty damn compelling.

  6. stonetools says:

    How many years tax returns did Romney reveal again? Was it two?
    I believe Doug was of the view that Romney had no legal duty to reveal any tax returns if he didn’t want to, and that it was wrong to press him on the issue.

    Well, if the rule is that Romney shouldn’t be pressed to reveal beyond what the law requires, then it seems we should apply the same rules to the Clintons. Maybe someone can let me know what law the Clintons have broken with respect to disclosing donations to their Foundation. If the answer is “None”, then that should be the end of it. Call it the Romney rule.

    However, Doug, if you think the problem is secret big money donations to politicians, then let’s begin a discussion of the billion dollars the Koch brothers are giviing to Republicans for the 2016 election.

  7. James Pearce says:

    Not a big fan of either of them, but this Clinton Foundation stuff is eventually going to fall flat. The Foundation gives credence to their claim as “elder statesmen” so I can understand the urge to hit them there.

    But wouldn’t it better, strategically, to divert attention away from the Clinton Foundation instead of constantly putting it under a spotlight?

  8. ralphb says:

    This post may be the largest pile of utter bullshit I’ve ever read on this site.

  9. Jack says:

    I saw a meme on FB the other day…no telling how accurate it is, but I thought I’d share.

    Koch Family: 2013 Charitable Contributions- $7,542,598, Managerial Overhead – $487,213

    Clinton Foundation Charitable Contributions – $8,865,052, Managerial Overhead – $84,684,494.

    I the above is true to any degree, the Clinton Foundation is a slush fund for Bill and Hill and should be taxed as income.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jack:

    I saw a meme on FB the other day…no telling how accurate it is

    Seriously ??

    Their audited financial statements , which include copies of their 990s, are available online for the asking.

  11. Jack says:

    @HarvardLaw92: You mean the ones they have to correct– without penalty from the IRS because these are no mere plebes? Those statements?

  12. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jack:

    The extent of the restatement is formative, not substantive, i.e. certain grant revenue was collectively reported under Pot A when it should have been reported separately under Pot B. It doesn’t change the totals. In fact, it doesn’t really change the numbers at all.

    Your first clue that it was specious should have been “FB meme”.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    You realize of course this is why Hillary went with a low-key launch. She announced and then more or less disappeared. Republicans immediately threw all the mud they could find which flies through the air and hits. . . air. Because Hillary isn’t really there yet.

    You don’t spring the ambush until the target in in the zone. Duh. They all just jumped out from behind their rocks, whooping and hollering but the victim is nowhere to be seen. Bill lets it build, gives a mush-mouthed reply that draws the distant fire to himself, and the Republicans have wasted their best oppo research 18 months before the election.

  14. Jack says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    It doesn’t change the totals. In fact, it doesn’t really change the numbers at all.

    So, you know their accountant? I think failing to report entire contributions from foreign governments counts as changing the totals.

    Oh, and I forgot to say, I’M FED UP! I’M OUTTA HERE!

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jack:

    No, I know how to read a balance sheet from a non-profit.

    The problems with their statements have to do with reporting certain government grants, which are restricted funds, as contributions, which are almost always unrestricted funds.

    It’s like you receiving $10, $5 of which you have to spend on candy and the rest which you can spend on whatever you like. Accounting rules mandate that non-profits report these inflows separately. They didn’t, hence the restatement.

    It boils down to their financial statements change from , as an example, “we received contributions of $10” to “we received contributions of $5 and restricted grants of $5”. In other words, formative. Total inflows remain $10.

  16. Jack says:

    @HarvardLaw92: None of which addresses the fact that the amount spent by the Clinton Foundation on Managerial Overhead is such a huge part of the overall dollar figure.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jack:

    See previous about “you shouldn’t believe what you read on a meme”, which is why I directed you to the financial statements in the first place.

    For example, in 2013, BHCCF expended $15,633,562 on management & general, which is the line item you are referring to, against total inflows of $294,741,158.

    That’s an overhead percentage of 5.3%. For a charitable foundation, an M&G percentage that low is, frankly, outstanding.

  18. Rafer Janders says:

    @Jack:

    I saw a meme on FB the other day…no telling how accurate it is,

    And there you go. That’s your standard for veracity and informed comment.

    Well, I guess if it’s on FB, it must be true…or, at the very least, truthy….

    Truly, truly pathetic.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Is there some reason conservatives can’t use Google?

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Jack:

    You have now spent the better part of the day defending first one, then a second proposition, both of which were obliterated by simple Google searches. Are you stupid or just lazy? Maybe both?

  21. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Why subject a faith-based system to proof?

  22. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    With Google, they might find the truth. Can’t have that.

    Conservatives hate truth-especially mathematical truth- the way a vampire hates sunlight.

  23. stonetools says:

    Doug has now posted seven times on the Clinton Foundation “scandal” and not once on the billions of dollars of secret money flowing to Republicans. Remember this the next time he describes himself as an “independent.”

  24. bill says:

    “I gotta pay our bills,” what a chivalrous man he is- taking care of the “little lady” and all.
    most of us could do well on his presidential retirement ……nearly half a $mil/year isn’t too bad. guess he’s really not “one of us” after all?

  25. MBunge says:

    @C. Clavin: Really…outside the hummer in the oval office, which ones were fair?

    Virtually none of them were indictable criminal offenses. The vast majority of them, however, were “scandals” by normal political standards.

    Does anyone think the GOP is less interested in hounding Barack Obama? Do you think the difference in number, nature and sticking power of Obama scandals might be due to the differences between the Presidents and the people around them?

    Mike

  26. An Interested Party says:

    Is there some reason conservatives can’t use Google?

    Well of course there is…after all, reality has a well-known liberal bias…

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @bill:

    Bill, you support the party of the rich and then resent the rich. WTF is going on with you?

  28. edmondo says:

    @MBunge:

    Virtually none of them were indictable criminal offenses.

    Perjury and obstruction of justice aren’t indictable offenses? Since when?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/19/politics/19CND-CLIN.html

  29. Hal_10000 says:

    Really…outside the hummer in the oval office, which ones were fair?
    Whitewater?

    That would be the scandal that resulted in forty felony convictions, including Bill Clinton’s business partner and lieutenant governor. The one that Starr reported he had evidence of wrongdoing but chose not to prosecute the Clintons because he didn’t think he would get a conviction. The one that involved law firm record disappearing for years and the revelation that Hillary Clinton put together contract mortgages.

    Yeah, totally unfair that people were worked up about that.

  30. Tillman says:

    She came close to winning the first time she ran, and neither the former President nor his wife come across as people willing to let an ambition like becoming the first husband and wife team to serve as President of the United States individually fall by the wayside.

    I mean, that’s only a technicality. “They both got elected” will certainly be an achievement, but there have been political First Ladies who either did the “co-president” thing Hill did with Bill (Nellie Taft comes to mind) or effectively were president (Edith Wilson after Woodrow’s stroke, for instance).

    It’ll certainly be nice to have it made official though.

  31. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Shouldn’t you be making the argument that none of these accusations are things that are against the law and that even if they were it wouldn’t matter because an expert Harvard M & A lawyer can get them off by changing the venue of the trial to one more favorable to the Clintons?

  32. Rafer Janders says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    Eh, that’s when he’s drunk. I think he’s sobered up a bit now.

  33. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Are you stupid or just lazy? Maybe both?

    Jack replies. “I don’t know and I don’t care”

  34. Davebo says:

    @stonetools:

    Now now. Doug has never acknowledged any personal help from The Institute for Humane Studies despite what some may have inferred.

  35. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    Wouldn’t it be great if people stuck to the topic instead of apparently nursing grudges by engaging in snarky personal attacks?

  36. Thomas Weaver says:

    @C. Clavin: Well shucks…you mentioned White Water but left the other twenty “goodies” out. And, I am not talking about taking the key caps off the administration’s computers. Break it on out…Travelgate…Monica….it’s never ending. History is history, so re-visit the whole circus tent and you will find that, indeed, the Clinton missteps were more then many.

  37. Grewgills says:
  38. Grewgills says:
  39. Jimbo OPKS says:

    @C. Clavin: I’m a Federal Employee. I teach a night class as an adjunct. I had to travel and one of our contractors who had done a Major project in the subject of the course offered to present the project to the class while I was away. Afterwards, I tried to give him a $50 gift card to show my thanks. Then the lawyers got involved and wouldn’t let me. This is why the whole Clinton cluster Fck is a big deal. Low level civil servants have to put up with this crap all the time while the Clinton’s think the law doesn’t apply to them.

  40. C. Clavin says:

    @Jimbo OPKS:
    Sure…no question…but that is not a problem endemic to the Clinton’s.
    Patreaus got a slap on the wrist for espionage.
    Bush and Cheney are war criminals by their own admission but are not being prosecuted.
    Meanwhile a man is executed for selling single cigarettes on the street in NYC.
    How many kids are in jail for selling nickel bags?
    Justice is not equal.
    Welcome to the real world.

  41. Rafer Janders says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Wouldn’t it be great if people stuck to the topic instead of apparently nursing grudges by engaging in snarky personal attacks?

    Yes, wouldn’t it be great if you could drunkenly spew a stream of racist venom and lies, and then have everyone politely ignore that that’s what you’d done? Wouldn’t this be a great world with no accountability for what we said or did?

  42. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Ample proof that

    Comments that contain personal attacks about the post author or other commenters will be deleted. Repeated violators will be banned. Challenge the ideas of those with whom you disagree, not their patriotism, decency, or integrity.

    is nothing more than a hollow bromide.

  43. jukeboxgrad says:

    Rafer:

    Eh, that’s when he’s drunk.

    No, he gave us a different explanation for his behavior: “this assclown Jukeboxgrad pissed me off the other night, and I lost it … I genuinely hate the guy.” Also relevant: “Go pound sand, you effete bleeding heart asshole.” Also relevant: “And I stand behind every word of that statement.”

    HL92:

    Wouldn’t it be great if people stuck to the topic instead of apparently nursing grudges by engaging in snarky personal attacks?

    Hilarious.

  44. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: you support the party that supposedly hates the rich- yet they’re all rich too!? i could care less how much people make, i can’t hate someone for that- people are judged by their actions, not their income.

  45. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I hold no grudge. I just like needling you now. I released my inner troll. Felt good, too!

  46. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: Reaction! Mmmm…. Goooood!