Hillary Clinton is under growing pressure over her family’s foundation, which has raised serious questions about conflicts of interest for the presidential candidate.

Foundation donors on more than one occasion also had business at the State Department when Clinton served as secretary, raising “pay-to-play” allegations from Donald Trump and other Republicans. 

{mosads}The controversy deepened after an Associated Press report highlighted the number of Clinton Foundation donors who received meetings with then-Secretary Clinton.

The Democratic presidential nominee and her campaign have gone on defense in response to the controversy, highlighting the foundation’s good works and noting there is no proof to Trump’s charges. 

The foundation has also announced steps it did not take when Clinton became secretary of State. 

If Clinton becomes president, it will not take donations from foreign governments, corporations or citizens or from U.S. corporations and corporate foundations. 

Yet the story has shown no signs of withering away, and if anything calls for the Clintons to separate themselves from the foundation have increased. 

While Clinton remains the favorite to win the White House, polls also have tightened in the last week — just as scrutiny of the foundation peaked. 

This suggests stories about the foundation are likely to continue — including during Clinton’s presidency if she is elected.  

Here are five ways she and her campaign could change the narrative.

Step away entirely from the foundation

The best way for Clinton to end the continuous drip of negative foundation stories would be to announce that the Clinton family will walk away entirely from their enterprise. 

Clinton is under pressure to do so. 

The New York Times editorial page on Monday said it was an “ethical imperative” for Clinton to achieve true distance from the foundation. 

The Times also said that if Clinton is elected, Bill and Chelsea Clinton should end their operational involvement in the foundation and its affiliates for her entire presidency and relinquish control over spending, hiring and board appointments. 

There is little sign that the Clintons are prepared to take such steps. 

While Bill Clinton has said he will step away from the foundation, Chelsea Clinton is expected to remain on the board and will help with the transition should her mother win the White House. 

As long as a Clinton family member has such a position, cries about conflicts of interest are likely to remain. 

One Hillary Clinton surrogate said it’s best for the whole family to walk away from the foundation. 

“I think they need a clean break,” the surrogate said. 

Yet the aggressive pushback from Clinton’s campaign, which has suggested its opponents are seeking to end the foundation’s good work, argues people high up in the Clinton organization are determined not to cave to such pressure. 

If that is the case, the Clintons need to take other steps to minimize the political hits they are now taking from questions about the foundation. 

Get a better message

If the Clintons are determined to keep a direct connection to the foundation during a Hillary Clinton presidency, they need to put forward a better argument and a more consistent message. 

Allies say the Clinton team has at times seemed overly defensive over the foundation, and they also see signs the campaign and foundation have been at odds over strategy. 

Clinton herself has at times made comments unhelpful to her argument that there are no conflicts between her public service and the foundation’s work. 

She told CNN last week that “there’s a lot of smoke and there’s no fire,” a wording that suggests there are issues with the foundation’s work. 

One former Clinton aide said the campaign needs “to be out there more forcefully debunking the suggestion of wrongdoing. They need to remind people of the truly life-saving work the foundation does all the time” and not shy from it. 

If they choose to do so, the campaign can make the strongest argument because they have more resources at their disposal like paid advertising along with a candidate on the stump every day, Clinton allies say.  

Lay it all out there

When Clinton became secretary of State, she vowed under pressure from Congress and the White House that the foundation would be transparent in its work. 

Yet critics say Clinton and the foundation fell well short of those sweeping promises. The Clinton Health Access Initiative, as an example, didn’t disclose its donors annually or submit foreign government donations to State Department ethics officials for review. 

That needs to change, say Clinton allies. 

They argue that Hillary or Bill Clinton should give a speech or a specific interview in which they detail the work of the foundation, which began in 2001, as a way of using government, private businesses and other groups to come together and assist in problems around the world. 

While Bill Clinton penned a Medium post and Hillary Clinton had to answer a couple of questions on the topic last week to CNN’s Anderson Cooper and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, it needs to be detailed more specifically and explained from the principals themselves, not just surrogates. 

The Clintons could talk about the foundation’s specific work.

“It’s the background noise on this that is interfering with her message,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who suggested a speech as a way Clinton could go on the offensive. 

“It’s something she should do,” Bannon said.

But he said he doesn’t think Clinton will do it.

“She’s just so cautious about everything,” he said.

Pivot the story to Trump

Clinton allies say their team needs to be more vocal about calling out Trump and his organization. 

They argue it is Trump’s business ties that deserve further scrutiny.

What is Trump going to do with his company when he runs? Does he have contracts with foreign governments? And why aren’t there demands for Trump to shut down his corporation, as several Republicans have argued about the foundation? 

“They need to be way louder in asking about Trump,” the former Clinton aide said. 

Another Clinton ally added: “His foreign ties are for profit and ours are non-profit, so who would be more indebted?”

Trump is in an unprecedented spot because of his business ties. While Mitt Romney was CEO at Bain Capital, he had severed his business ties before his first run for president, in 2008. 

A Trump spokeswoman said earlier this year that his daughter Ivanka would run the organization if he won the presidency. 

Yet she’s also one of Trump’s closest advisers, say Clinton supporters. 

And there have been few specifics from Trump about his potential business conflicts if he wins. He has yet to release all of his tax records.

Clarify why the Clintons didn’t see a conflict while she was secretary of State (but do see one when she’s president) 

Bill Clinton announced earlier this month that he would step down from the Clinton Foundation board and that he would no longer raise money for it.

Missing from his statement was a clarification on why he and Hillary Clinton thought he could continue to serve on the board while she was secretary of State. 

In a recent staff meeting, Bill Clinton tried to break down the difference to his aides, saying that there were reasons why a family member who is president would require more restrictions than a family member who is secretary of State, according to a source who attended.

Mostly, he told his staff that it’s because there’s no one to appeal to when you’re president. When Clinton was secretary of State, they made the necessary changes, including the limitation of foreign donors — but knew the White House could intervene if they overstepped their boundaries. 

While some surrogates have tried to explain this, a detailed answer from either Bill or Hillary Clinton could help the public understand the difference. 

Tags Bill Clinton Clinton Foundation Donald Trump Hillary Clinton

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