Bill Clinton+Hillary Clinton

For four years the Clintons roamed the world separately, she for the State Department, he for his foundation, talking the whole time. Does that add up to scandal?


By Michael Hirsh
April 25, 2015

To get to the bottom of the latest incarnation of Clinton-gate, you’re going to have to get inside one of the most impenetrable marriages ever. Good luck with that.

A quarter-century ago, when Bill and Hillary Clinton first arrived on the national scene, their union represented an exciting new political dynamic—two equally smart, ambitious, career-driven people hungry for public office. Buy one, get one free. Today many critics see that as the main issue. The long-awaited close examination of the marriage that has been such an inseparable part of the Clintons’ public life, particularly as they’ve traded places and power in the 16 years since his political career ended and hers began, is finally here.

Even as new boss Barack Obama asked her to take the job of secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was already warning him that Bill was going to be a problem—that, according to the book Game Change, she couldn’t control him. The Clinton Foundation came up again and again at her confirmation hearing in early 2009. Then-Sen. Richard Lugar, the sober vice chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, noted the “risks” of the Bill-and-Hillary show and observed presciently: “Every new foreign donation that is accepted by the foundation comes with the risk it will be connected in the global media to a proximate State Department policy or decision.”

Well before she ran for president, in fact, Bill Clinton’s activities had caused headaches for his senator-wife: Bill jetting nonstop around the planet accompanied by rich and powerful friends in the service of a global foundation that appeared to be a vast unscramblable omelette of philanthropy and (potential) influence peddling. Bill flying to Kazakhstan in 2005 with Frank Giustra, the Canadian mining tycoon who was ushered into a private dinner with Clinton and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and came home with huge exclusive uranium contracts, according to the New York Times. Bill praising Nazarbayev for “opening up the social and political life of your country” while Sen. Hillary Clinton was blocking Nazarbayev’s bid to head a major U.N. organization on Capitol Hill.

By the time she got to the State Department, Bill Clinton managed to stay under the public radar, even as he became what Hillary Clinton once described to me as “a great sounding board” during her four years as chief U.S. diplomat. “He knows 90 percent of the people that I deal with in the world today and has astute observations about what moves them and what doesn’t and how it’s all interconnected,” she said in a 2010 interview. “So he remains a very important adviser to me and an important adviser to other people in the administration.”

Now a host of news organizations, spurred by a forthcoming book by right-wing author Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, are trying to show he was far more than adviser—that some of the things Hillary Clinton did or counseled as secretary of state were influenced by some of the big money Bill Clinton accepted as head of the Clinton Foundation. To prove it, all you need to do is unscramble the omelette. Among those that have pursued the story is the New York Times, which sought to pick up where it left off on its 2008 story on Giustra and Clinton in Kazakhstan based on some of Schweizer’s new material. On Thursday, the Times published a story suggesting that the donations of Giustra and other investors to the Clinton Foundation could have influenced a U.S. government decision to approve a lucrative buyout of Giustra’s company by Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency.

Giustra, who sits on the board of the Clinton Foundation, has more recently been involved in Colombia, and as it happens at around the same time that the Obama administration was negotiating a free-trade agreement that would benefit Giustra’s Pacific Rubiales, a petroleum company caught up in labor disputes in Colombia. The Schweizer book seeks to demonstrate that Hillary Clinton pushed for the Colombian free trade agreement—opposed by both Clinton and Obama a during the 2008 campaign—because of influence by big pro-Clinton Foundation donors like Pacific Rubiales. Politico obtained a copy of the chapter, which appears to fall short of proving anything, and Giustra himself says he left his business in Colombia before the free-trade deal was signed. “At one point, I was an investor in Pacific Rubiales, a Colombian energy company. I sold my shares in Pacific Rubiales several years before the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” he said in a statement.

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