Top Hillary Clinton campaign aides decided in 2015 to “take the money” from registered foreign agents with the Department of Justice, no matter the prospect of generating negative publicity, according to an April 2015 email thread released by WikiLeaks over the weekend.
It is strictly against federal election law for any candidate for U.S. public office to accept donations from foreign governments or foreign principals based on the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The Department of Justice Counterintelligence and Export Control Section and its National Security Division enforce FARA.
It is not illegal, though, for campaigns to accept contributions from American citizens who represent foreign interests. The former secretary of state’s top campaign chiefs worried that accepting contributions from such Americans might generate negative coverage.
Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, wrote in the thread that ran from April 13 to 17, 2015, “these sorts of [FARA] restrictions don’t really get you anything. I’m ok just taking the money and dealing with any attacks.”
Dennis Cheng, Clinton’s national finance chief, said, “we do need to make a decision on this ASAP as our friends who happen to be registered with FARA are already donating and raising.”
“Take the money!!” exclaimed Clinton Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri in response.
Both Hillary and former President Bill Clinton have accepted funds from foreign donors in the past. Hong Kong-born Norman Hsu, for example, was convicted of campaign finance fraud by giving $800,000 in illegal campaign donations to Democratic candidates in 2007, including Hillary Clinton.
Hsu was convicted in 2009 in a federal trial.
Other Asian figures gave illegal campaign donations to Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee during the 1996 election campaign, according to a U.S. Senate investigation.
Cheng was previously deputy chief of Clinton’s Department of State protocol office when foreign guests were invited to White House State dinners. He had also served as the Clinton Foundation’s top fund-raiser, bringing in record donations — many from foreign sources.
Cheng told his campaign colleagues he had to “push back” against those who wanted to restrict the funds.
“I feel like we are leaving a good amount of money on the table (both for primary and general, and then DNC and state parties) … and how do we explain to people that we’ll take money from a corporate lobbyist but not them; that the foundation takes $ from foreign govts but we now won’t,” Cheng wrote in the email thread.
Clinton campaign finance legal expert Marc Elias didn’t object to accepting donations from registered foreign agents.
“In judging whether to take the money, we would consider the relationship between that country and the United States, its relationship to the State Department during Hillary’s time as Secretary, and its relationship, if any, to the foundation,” Elias added in the thread.
The lobbying firms solicited by the Clinton campaign that were registered foreign agents have had traditionally close ties to the Democratic Party and to the Clintons.
Clinton campaign attorney Karuna Seshasai identified 27 such lobbying groups among 370 “prospective bundlers” targeted for solicitation.
Among them was Tony Podesta’s lobbying group, which was a registered agent for many authoritarian and strife-torn governments, including Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Somalia and Albania. Tony Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, who is Hillary Clinton’s national campaign chairman.
Jack Quinn, a long time Clinton staffer and friend, also represented Macedonia.
DLA Piper is a registered agent for the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Turkey and Ethiopia. Hillary Clinton is the largest single recipient of DLA Piper donations, with contributions to date topping $288,000, according to Open Secrets.
DLA Piper Partner John Marrigen represented Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister and vice president of the UAE, and Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid AL Maktoum, the UAE’s minister of finance and industry.
Seshasai said in the thread, which included Huma Abedin, Hillary’s deputy chief of staff at the State Department, “If we were looking at these folks below on a case by case basis, I’d want to specifically raise: Tony Podesta (Iraq, Azerbaijan, Egypt), Ben Barnes (Libya), John Merrigan (UAE), Wyeth Weidman (Libya), and Mike Driver (UAE connections).”
Both Clintons have significant relationships with the UAE Sheiks; Bill Clinton was a business partner with Rashid al Maktoum in a hedge fund shortly after he left the White House. (RELATED: “Persian Gulf Sheikhs Gave Bill & Hillary $100 Million)
Clinton also personally pocketed at least $15 million in a partnership with the Sheik’s Dubai Investment Group and Yucaipa Partners.
Bill Clinton’s White House tenure frequently involved foreign contributions. Yah-Lin Charlie Trie, an agent for the People’s Republic of China, attempted to donate $450,000 to then-President Bill Clinton’s legal defense fund in 1996, but it was returned to him.
Similarly, Johnny Chung, a Taiwan-born California businessman, visited the White House 49 times during Clinton’s presidency and donated $366,000 to the Democratic National Committee.
Other foreigners who aided Clinton and the Democratic National Committee included John Huang, another Taiwan-born businessman who was convicted in 2009 of illegal campaign donations. Maria Hsia, also of Taiwan, was convicted in 2000 of five campaign felonies.
Then-FBI Director Louis Freeh requested an Independent Counsel to investigation the Clinton campaign violations but his request was denied by Clinton’s Attorney General Janet Reno.
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