Republican strategists believe attacking Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE over her family’s charitable foundation is the best way for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBiden says Roe v. Wade under attack like 'never before' On student loans, Biden doesn't have an answer yet Grill company apologizes after sending meatloaf recipe on same day of rock star's death MORE to turn around his underperforming presidential campaign.
Trump and his allies have made the potential for corruption related to Clinton Foundation the basis for an all-out assault on the Democratic nominee this week in a bid to drive up her unfavorable ratings in swing states.
“It’s an obvious weakness in her candidacy,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.
Trump on Monday called for the Clintons to shut down their foundation immediately, alleging, “the Clintons have spent decades lining their own pockets and taking care of donors instead of the American people.”
Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE (R-Ala.), Trump’s strongest Senate ally and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Tuesday for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
“The fundamental thing is you cannot be secretary of State of the United States of America and use that position to extort or to seek contributions to your private foundation. That is a fundamental violation of law and that appears to have happened,” Sessions said on CNN.
For the attack to work, Trump will have to keep the focus on Clinton and off his own campaign, something he has struggled to do since clinching the Republican nomination.
“The more important part is for him to avoid making some sort of controversial or inflammatory statement taking the spotlight off of her long enough for it to sink in,” Ayres said.
This will be particularly challenging given Clinton’s counterattacks.
Clinton, who served as secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, and her allies have played defense by pointing to Trump’s refusal to publicly release his tax returns, suggesting they are more likely to show potential corruption in his ties to foreign governments. The New York Times reported over the weekend that the Bank of China lent Trump millions of dollars for an office tower in Manhattan.
Virginia Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Manchin, Sinema join GOP to sink filibuster change for voting bill Desperate Dems signal support for cutting Biden bill down in size MORE (D), Clinton’s running mate, argued Monday in an appearance before a conference of the Iron Workers International in Las Vegas that Clinton’s charitable endeavors aren’t comparable to Trump’s business dealings.
“The Clinton Foundation is a nonprofit organization that is a world-class charity that's provided lifesaving AIDS drugs,” Kaine said. “Before you go out attacking a charity, why don't you come clean about your own business dealings? Why don't you tell us who you are in debt to?”
In zeroing in on the Clinton Foundation, Trump and his allies are pointing to State Department records made public this week by Judicial Watch, a conservative group, showing that Clinton aides gave special access to Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain, who contributed $32 million to the Clinton Global Initiative.
Doug Band, the senior executive at the Clinton Foundation, expedited Salman’s access to Hillary Clinton after efforts to set up a meeting through normal State Department channels proved fruitless.
“You have these very shady foreign oligarchs involved with the Clinton Foundation and it involved intimately with the State Department under Secretary of State Clinton,” Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Senate's antitrust bill would raise consumer prices and lower our competitiveness Sinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform MORE (R-Ark.), another Trump supporter told Hugh Hewitt, a conservative talk show host Tuesday. “That’s why I’ve said that Hillary and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPerdue proposes election police force in Georgia To boost economy and midterm outlook, Democrats must pass clean energy bill Could the coming 'red wave' election become a 'red tsunami'? MORE should immediately suspend all donations to the Clinton Foundation from foreign governments and from corporations.”
Nonpartisan experts say the latest details are a serious political liability for Clinton, who has opened up comfortable leads in several battleground states over the past month.
“The foundation is a liability for candidate Clinton because of the money that has come in. The gifts from abroad create suspicions that there are divided loyalties and this is damaging to her,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, says the Clinton Foundation “was inevitably going to pose problems for Hillary Clinton going into the 2016 election.”
He said a particularly damaging instance was the foundation’s acknowledgment that a 2010 donation from the Algerian government ran counter to an agreement with the Obama administration.
“If you look at some of the donors to the Clinton Foundation, particularly the biggest donors among the foreign governments, they have no interest in what the Clinton Foundation is doing. They’re just throwing money at the feet of the Clintons in order to get access and influence so that is a valid problem,” he said.
Republican strategists say Trump is raising the issue to new prominence now and will do so for the rest of the campaign to remind voters of the fundraising scandals that embroiled Bill Clinton’s White House in the 1990s.
“It’s a visceral reminder of the Clinton scandals of the '90s that people vaguely remember. Remember George W. Bush ran in 1999 on a theme of restoring honor and dignity to the White House,” said Charlie Spies, a Republican lawyer and strategist. “I’m talking about the Chinese money scandals and the selling of the Lincoln Bedroom. That’s in the back of people’s minds, they don’t remember the specifics.”
Spies said the focus on the Clinton Foundation is designed to revive the general “ick factor” that “makes the ‘Crooked Hillary’ insult by the Trump campaign resonate.”
Bill Clinton has conceded the potential for political damage posed by his informing employees and donors last week that the foundation would not accept donations from corporations or foreign sources if Hillary Clinton wins in November.
But nonpartisan experts say the force of Trump’s attacks are blunted by his unwillingness to release his tax information, something presidential nominees have done for decades.
Trump says he won’t do so because he’s being audited by the IRS. He also notes that he has fulfilled legal requirements by filing a personal financial disclosure form. That document, however, wasn't designed for candidates with his level of wealth.
Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at Stanford University called Trump’s charge and Clinton’s counterattack “equally valid.”
He said “if Trump didn’t have his own problems,” the Clinton Foundation might be a more damaging point of attack.
“The thing about Trump is that he steps on his own message by not disclosing his own conflicts of interests and by the various other things that he does,” Cain added. “He’d have to become a much better candidate to really take advantage of it.”
But he noted that Clinton has to walk a fine line between appealing to independent voters while keeping left-wing progressives “who can barely tolerate her” on board.
“Anything she does that seems like typical Clinton entitlement behavior, where it makes it seem the rules just don’t apply to them, makes it possible some of these people won’t show up on Election Day,” he added.