The Clinton cash controversy: What you need to know

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Revelations, accusations and pushback have come thick and fast over a forthcoming book focused on the financial interests of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. But many of the details have been difficult to follow.

Here’s what you need to know.


The basics

Clinton Cash, by Peter Schweizer, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, will be published on May 5.

The book entered the spotlight on Monday when The New York Times published an extensive account of its contents, describing it as “the most anticipated and feared book of a presidential cycle still in its infancy.”

The Times, quoting from the book, reports Schweizer’s assertion that he has uncovered, “a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds.”

While the book appears to contain no “smoking gun” showing a quid pro quo for donors, it does note that 11 of the 13 most lucrative speeches former President Clinton gave in recent years came during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State. It also notes that the Clintons’ income between 2001 and 2012 was at least $136.5 million.


What does Team Clinton say?

Allies of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, have sought to discredit the book and its author.

A statement from Correct the Record, a group that pushes back on media criticism of Clinton, described the tome as “a work of fiction … a political hatchet job masquerading as a book.” 

The group also drew attention to Schweizer’s background as a speechwriting consultant for former President George W. Bush and a foreign policy adviser to 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

John Podesta, chairman of Clinton’s presidential campaign, insisted during an appearance on PBS’s “Charlie Rose” show that Schweizer had “cherry-picked information that has been disclosed and woven a bunch of conspiracy theories about it.”

Some Democrats have attacked the media’s coverage of the book. Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, a 2004 presidential candidate, accused the Times of “substituting their judgment for news” during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Taking a milder approach, Chelsea Clinton promised that the Clinton Foundation “will be even more transparent” in the future, though she emphasized the organization already receives high marks from at least one watchdog group.


What about the author and Clinton critics?

Schweizer told Joshua Green of Bloomberg Politics that his next book will investigate the finances of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who is expected to enter the 2016 presidential race soon. 

Schweizer told Green that “we’ve found some interesting things” about Bush.  

The forthcoming project on the top GOP contender further complicates the effort by Clinton allies to paint Clinton Cash as a hyper-partisan project. 

The Clinton camp would also prefer to ignore other elements of Schweizer’s past that boost his credibility. 

He was a vocal advocate for reforms to prohibit members of Congress from using nonpublic knowledge to profit from the stock market. He was centrally featured in a CBS “60 Minutes” report on the issue. Reformers’ efforts eventually reached fruition when President Obama signed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act into law in 2012.

Meanwhile, conservatives have been playing up the allegations in Clinton Cash

White House candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Sean Hannity of Fox News that “people are going to be blown away by the details in this book, and how they link the Clintons into this enormous exchange of money from foreign countries, donors, companies.”

Another 2016 contender, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), has used social media to call for the Democrat to return money received from “foreign nations.” American political candidates cannot accept foreign donations; Cruz is referring to money given to the Clinton Foundation.

The episode has also produced some unusual, and presumably temporary, media alliances. On Twitter, conservative writer Jonah Goldberg lauded the Times and The Washington Post  for “siding with Schweizer” rather than Team Clinton.


What else has come out?

The Times and the Post are two of the media organizations that received early copies of Clinton Cash on the understanding that they could use Schweizer’s work as the foundation for new reporting. 

The specifics of these deals are somewhat hazy and have themselves been subject to criticism. Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote that she believed the substance of the agreement was ethical “but I still don’t like the way it looked.”

On Thursday morning, the Times published a long, complicated story about the acquisition of a uranium-mining company by Russia’s atomic energy agency. 

The salient facts are that during earlier iterations of the company, Uranium One, it had been in effect controlled by Canadian mining investors, including Frank Giustra and Ian Telfer. 

Both Giustra and Telfer were significant donors to the Clinton Foundation — directly, in Giustra’s case, and through a family foundation for Telfer.

In 2005, Giustra and Bill Clinton had flown to Kazakhstan to meet that nation’s “authoritarian president,” as the Times called him, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev may have helped pave the way for a deal on uranium-mining rights that was struck shortly afterward. There have been conflicting reports about whether government approval was needed. But, a short time later, Giustra donated $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation.

The Giustra episode had already been reported, but new details have emerged pertaining to the later period, when the Russians were moving to acquire the company.

Telfer, the chairman of the takeover target, used his family foundation to make four donations, $2.35 million in total, to the Clinton Foundation. According to the Times, “those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors.”

The Telfer donations are important, Clinton critics say, because the takeover bid from the Russians had to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a body of Cabinet members that includes the secretary of State, at the time Hillary Clinton. 

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told the Times, “no one has ever produced a shred of evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of State to support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation.”

In a subsequent post Thursday on the website Medium, Fallon wrote, “While it is true that the State Department sits on the multi-agency, inter-governmental panel that reviews deals like this one, Hillary Clinton herself did not participate in the review or direct the Department to take any position on the sale.” Fallon also asserted that it is the Treasury Department, not State, that serves as the “lead agency” on the committee.

The deal was ultimately approved in October 2010. 

According to the Times, “the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States.”


Anything else?

Last month the Post also looked into how one of Hillary Clinton’s brothers, Tony Rodham, became part of the advisory board of a company that owns a gold mine in Haiti.

The newspaper wrote that Rodham’s involvement was “first revealed in publicity about an upcoming book,” referring to Clinton Cash.

Rodham and the CEO of the mining company told the Post that they had been introduced at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, run by the Clinton Foundation. Both denied the Clintons played any role in his appointment. 

The Post asked Rodham if he attended meetings of the initiative to seek out business opportunities.

“No, I go to see old friends. But you never know what can happen,” he replied.


And on Thursday…

Reuters reported that the Clinton charities would refile “at least five annual tax returns after a Reuters review found errors in how they reported donations from governments.”

— This story was updated at 2:38 p.m.

Tags Bill Clinton Canada Chelsea Clinton Clinton Cash Frank Giustra Haiti Hillary Clinton Peter Schweizer Russia Tony Rodham

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