Foreign governments give millions of dollars in contributions to presidential libraries because they are “currying favor” with former U.S. presidents, according to John Podesta, national chairman of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the White House.
Podesta’s observation is buried in a lengthy email thread sent on Feb. 18, 2015 — a discussion among virtually the entire inner circle of the then-unofficial Clinton campaign. The Podesta email is among the thousands made public in recent days by WikiLeaks.
The former secretary of state’s campaign has been plagued by allegations that the Clinton Foundation is little more than a front for channeling “pay-to-play” contributions from special interests, including especially foreign governments, seeking to buy access and influence through the former chief executive, his wife, and their closest political associates.
Among Podesta’s recipients were Nick Merrill, Clinton’s personal spokesman, Robby Mook, who would not long after be named campaign manager, Huma Abedin, Clinton’s closest personal aide, and Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff at the Department of State.
All 13 of Podesta’s correspondents are now in leadership positions in the Clinton campaign. One of them, Jennifer Palmieri, had only recently announced her intention to leave President Barack Obama’s White House staff to join the Clinton effort.
Podesta’s description of foreign donations to presidential libraries as “currying favor” provides an apt summary of the entire email thread, which was prompted by the Clinton Foundation’s decision to resume accepting contributions from overseas governments and a then-forthcoming news report by the Wall Street Journal’s James Grimaldi.
The Clinton Foundation had accepted millions of dollars from such donors since its 1997 founding, but the practice was limited in 2009 when Clinton became Obama’s secretary of state. The decision to again accept the foreign funds sparked a remarkably blunt conversation about the issue. (RELATED: Leaked Memo: Hillary Wants Clinton Foundation To Keep Accepting Foreign Donations)
Podesta was pointing out that former President Jimmy Carter had conducted an endowment drive that resulted in contributions from foreign governments. “Not sure who was currying favor with him,” Podesta said.
Podesta’s remark was followed a mere two minutes later by long-time Democratic campaign communications strategist Mandy Grunwald asking “how much money have each of the Bush libraries (or philanthropies) raised from overseas?”
Mills then responded “a lot and we have that data.”
Several hours later, Heather Samuelson, one of Mills’ assistants, circulated a memo containing the promised data and offering this summary:
Bush 41 received funds from Qatar, Kuwait, Japan, Oman, UAE for his library, including while his son was in office. Carter Center has received funds from Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Netherlands, etc. Unclear if they publicly designate anywhere whether it goes to endowment v. specific programming. Looking into that now.
Samuelson’s memo offered a detailed look at foreign donations to every presidential library, beginning with former President Ronald Reagan. Among Samuelson’s findings were these:
- “There is nothing new or unusual about presidential libraries and foundations receiving contributions from foreign governments. And there is significant overlap between those that have given to the Clinton Library and other presidential libraries.”
- “The libraries of former Presidents George H.W.Bush, Carter and Reagan all took money from foreign governments and former presidents Carter and Bush continue to take money from foreign governments to fund their charitable work.”
- “In fact, former President George H.W. Bush received at least a million dollars from the Embassy of Qatar in 2004 while his son was president.”
Reagan’s library received only a single $2 million donation from the government of Taiwan. Podesta’s “currying favor” description may not be applicable, though, because the 40th president was a vocal supporter of the Republic of China, Taiwan, for decades before entering the White House.
Another of Podesta’s correspondents in the email thread was Dennis Cheng, formerly a senior aide to Clinton at the State Department and a Clinton Foundation fund raiser.
“Germany’s donation was to support [Clinton Foundation’s] agricultural initiative in Africa Norway I believe was to support[Clinton Foundation’s] climate work. Canada was for the foundation’s work in Haiti, I believe,” Cheng described the foundation’s recent grants from foreign sources.
“These countries were definitely specifically for a[Clinton Foundation] program: Norway, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands Qatar was for CGI The only governments that donated to the endowment were: Saudi Arabia, Oman, and UAE.”
Cheng’s inclusion of Australia highlights the difficulty of measuring the influence of foreign interests that is exercised through presidential libraries and foundations. As The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group reported July 27, it is all but impossible to know exactly how much the Clinton Foundation has received from Australian government sources.
Clinton Foundation listings include contributions from the Commonwealth of Australia and the Australian Agency for International Development in a range between totals of $20 million and $50 million. The foundation does not provide the date of the contributions, TheDCNF previously reported.
Even with the highest number — $50 million — in the range, however, there is a disparity of as much as $39 million with reports from the Australian government. Using the foundation’s lowest number of $20 million, the disparity could be as much as $68 million.
A Sept. 22, 2014, statement by Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said that “since 2006, Australia has contributed $88 million to [the Clinton Health Access Initiative] and its sister organization, the Clinton Foundation.”
Measuring influence when specific amounts is hard enough; not knowing who gave how much can make it impossible.
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