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Aug. 23 2016 7:25 PM

The Clinton Foundation Saga Is Insanely Convoluted. Here’s Why It Matters.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press released a troubling new report suggesting that Hillary Clinton frequently met with the Clinton Foundation’s big-dollar donors in an official capacity during her time as secretary of state. Here is an attempt to unpack the ongoing and convoluted scandal that Republicans have pointed to as a sign that Clinton can’t be trusted in the White House and that Democrats are generally trying to shrug off as no big deal.

Why are we here?

Hillary is up big in the polls and in accompanying electoral projections, but she’s not in the White House yet—Republicans are hoping that the slow trickle of challenges to her integrity as exemplified by the Clinton Foundation affair will start to bring her numbers back down to Earth. Recently released documents from her time as secretary of state continue to raise serious questions about the Clinton Foundation, its overlapping interests with its deep-pocketed donors around the globe, and how that all may have influenced her work in the State Department. The ongoing controversy poses an immediate political problem for Hillary as she seeks the presidency, and would pose a real-world one for her administration if she does indeed win this fall.

Wait—I’ve heard of this “Clinton Foundation” thing. Haven’t we already litigated this scandal?

In some ways, yes. The Clinton Foundation has long been a topic of interest for Hillary’s fellow politicos, the press, and the public. In 2009, when then-Sen. Hillary Clinton was being publicly considered for secretary of state, her critics were quick to point to the foundation as one giant web of conflicts of interest. As a result, the foundation agreed to make public a list of its previously confidential donors, which turned out to include a number of oligarchs, royal families, and foreign governments.

Those same concerns—along with new ones associated with the millions of dollars Bill and Hillary were personally paid to give speeches to many of the same entities that donated heavily to their charitable organization—returned to the fore last year when it became definitive that Clinton would be running for president. Most notably, the cozy ties between the Clintons and their global patrons were the subject of Clinton Cash, a much-hyped book-length investigation from Peter Schweizer that was released in May 2015. Schweizer is a conservative journalist with ties to Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon, who since has become the chief executive of Donald Trump’s campaign, but that hasn’t prevented the book’s reporting from getting national attention in publications like the New York Times. The book itself failed to find the smoking gun Clinton’s most vociferous critics are convinced exists, but it served as a prod to the rest of the press corps to investigate the issues raised by Hillary’s involvement with the Clinton Foundation.

OK, then, why is this in the news again?

Recently released email exchanges between Clinton’s aides at the State Department and those working for the Clinton Foundation offered Americans a peek into how the Hillary-led department and the not-for-profit that bears her name interacted while she was serving in the Obama administration. That picture is not a particularly flattering one.

In one such exchange from 2009, for instance, Clinton Foundation executive Douglas Band reached out in an attempt to put a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire, who had donated heavily to the foundation, in touch with one of the State Department’s experts on Lebanon. After top Clinton aide Huma Abedin suggested she’d help make the connection, Band responded by urging Abedin to call the ambassador herself ASAP. “This is very important,” he added. In a separate exchange several days earlier, Band had asked for something his subject line described as “a favor.” The email is heavily redacted, but it appears as though Band was trying to help someone who had recently traveled to Haiti on a Clinton Foundation trip get a job at the State Department. “Important to take care of [redacted],” Band wrote. To which Abedin replied: “We have all had him on our radar” and “Personnel has been sending him options.” A few months later, Band reached out again, this time on behalf of the crown prince of Bahrain, who wanted a last-minute meeting with the secretary. “Good friend of ours,” Band wrote of a prince whose government had given tens of thousands to the Clinton’s charity. The list goes on.

Yikes. What else you got?

These don’t appear to have been one-off incidents. As noted, the Associated Press examined Clinton’s official government calendar from her first two years in the State Department and found that more than half of the people who didn’t work for either the U.S. government or a foreign one that Clinton had scheduled meetings with were either donors to her family foundation or had pledged commitments to its international programs. All told, the 85 individuals gave as much as $156 million to the organization. (And those figures don’t even include meetings between Clinton and the representatives of at least 16 foreign governments that had donated as much as $170 million to the charity.)

But that doesn’t prove quid pro quo, right?

Correct, though that shouldn’t make anyone sleep better at night. You don’t need to believe the Clintons orchestrated some sort of pay-for-play scheme to know that there is something wrong with a dynamic where it is nearly impossible to prove whether they did or did not.

Still, what’s so bad about taking a meeting? Don’t politicians meet with donors all the time?

Yes, the possibility of favor trading hangs over almost every decision in Washington, where congressmen and presidents attend fundraisers with and play host to their biggest benefactors. But Clinton was—and is—in a unique position because corporations and some foreign entities can donate to her family foundation rather than just her campaign, something they can’t do directly to other candidates. Those conflicts of interest are only compounded, of course, by the fact that she was then the nation’s chief diplomat and is now running to become its chief executive.

Even if Hillary were able to separate past foundation donations and the promise of future ones from her official actions, the donors cutting those checks would still be getting the appearance of access to a former president and a likely future one. And the mere perception of access matters, both in the financial marketplace and the political one.

But I thought the Clintons stopped accepting donations from companies and foreigners.

Nope. Bill Clinton announced last week that the foundation would stop accepting such donations if Hillary wins in November, but not before then. That decision would limit—but not eliminate—the conflicts of interest that would be created by a global foundation founded by the man who was the 42nd president of the United States and the woman who would be the nation’s 45th. While the Clintons are now promising to build that firewall for themselves if Hillary wins the White House, their announcement did nothing to prevent foreign entities or corporations from cutting a check now with the perception that they might cash in later.

But is this really more concerning than anything that’s come out of Donald Trump’s mouth in the past 15 minutes?

Probably not. But you can still believe Donald Trump would be a far worse president—one with even bigger and more dangerous conflicts of interest—and acknowledge that this is a legitimate issue of concern about Clinton.

Trump might be terrible and he might be the one with the most to gain from serious investigations into the Clinton Foundation. But the weight of Bill and Hillary’s combined policy influence means that examining these questions through the lens of a political campaign is an appropriate frame to discuss the conflicts of interest that plague our political system. That discussion becomes only more urgent every step closer the Clintons get to returning to the White House.

OK, but the Clinton Foundation does tons of great work, right? You just want to throw that all away?

Yes, the Clinton Foundation has done admirable work promoting global health and human rights around the world, and the Clintons, their staff, and their donors should be lauded for that. But that also doesn’t change the fact that as long as Hillary Clinton is either running for the White House or running the country from inside it, donors will likely see the Clinton Foundation as a way to gain influence. If their donors are truly being driven only by altruism—and not by access—there is no reason they wouldn’t find another nonprofit for their charitable contributions during the next four or eight years.

When is this all going to go away?

Unless Donald Trump pulls off one of the greatest political upsets of all time, or Bill and Hillary find religion on the matter and stop accepting donations immediately, probably not until some time around 2021 when neither Clinton will have any sort of office to run for. Either that, or sometime around President Chelsea Clinton’s second term in the 2040s.

Aug. 23 2016 5:32 PM

Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Courting the Black Vote by Insulting Every Black Person

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

Donald Trump is giving this whole "I'm not racist" thing his full attention this week! Here was his pitch to black people as delivered last night in Akron, Ohio:

What do you have to lose? Look, it is a disaster the way African-Americans are living. … We’ll get rid of the crime. You’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot. Right now, you walk down the street, you get shot.

What's interesting about this is that there is a tiny little seed of empathy for nonwhite people here. Unfortunately, that seed has been swallowed by a giant stereotype dragon. There is a difference between "the black community in what is now the United States been the subject of both de jure and de facto discrimination for some 400 years and as such is disproportionately affected by social ills such as crime and poverty" and "every predominately black neighborhood is a Robocop criminal hellscape." Donald Trump has not quite yet grasped that difference. Our danger level remains low.


Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons

Aug. 23 2016 5:13 PM

Appeals Court Upholds Discriminatory Voting Restrictions, Deals Setback to Ohio’s Black Voters

Two steps forward, one step back. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed the legality of an Ohio law that eliminated the early voting week most favored by minority voters. The 2-1 decision bucks the federal judiciary’s recent shift toward robust protections for voting rights, and turns a blind eye to what any casual observer would surely recognize as a race-based voting restriction. But all in all, the ruling is really quite narrow, and it’s unlikely to have ramifications beyond its immediate restriction of the franchise in Ohio.

Tuesday’s decision centered around a Republican-led effort to abolish Ohio’s voting “Golden Week”—a six-day period during which individuals could register to vote and cast their ballots at the same time. Empirical evidence demonstrates that black voters were much more likely to take advantage of Golden Week than white voters. That makes sense: Black Ohioans are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to have time off from work than whites. For many black voters, these factors make two separate trips to vote—one to register, one to cast a ballot—very difficult financially. For this reason, a lower court had concluded that the elimination of Golden Week disproportionately burdened black citizens’ right to vote, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

The 6th Circuit reversed that ruling, declaring that it’s still “easy to vote in Ohio. Very easy, actually.” While the state eliminated Golden Week, it preserved 29 days of early voting—though none of those days allow same-day registration. The majority found that Ohio’s early voting system is “one of the more generous in the nation,” and that its contraction is “at most, minimally burdensome.” Sure, “some African-American votersmay prefer” voting during Golden Week, the court scoffed, but that’s simply “a matter of choice.” Stripping black voters of their preferred voting method, the majority held, just doesn’t qualify as a “state-created obstacle” to voting.


Aug. 23 2016 5:06 PM

More Than Half of the Private Citizens Clinton Met With at State Department Were Foundation Donors

It's been clear for a while now that Hillary Clinton's State Department did some favors for individuals who also happened to be big donors to the Clinton Foundation. The scope of Clinton's favor-trading operation, though, has been unclear. Was the State Department completely transformed for four years into a Clinton-enriching lobbying firm, as Donald Trump has hyperbolically alleged? Or are we talking more about a few perfunctory meetings here and there? A new Associated Press investigation attempts to answer that question, and the results are not flattering for Hillary:

At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

Yikes. The AP defines "private interest"-related meetings as involving individuals who weren't U.S. federal employees or representatives of a foreign government; by this measure, then, 55 percent of the nongovernment individuals whose meetings and calls with Clinton were reviewed involved donors to a powerful private organization that the secretary of state co-founded and helps control. It doesn't seem at this point as if there is any smoking gun example of Clinton taking an egregiously inappropriate action on behalf of any of these donors, but the AP notes that it's only received scheduling documents covering half of Clinton's tenure. (The materials that it has received were requested three years ago, and the AP had to sue the State Department to actually obtain them.) Meanwhile, it's already known that some of the entities that donated to the Clinton Foundation also paid the Clintons individually for giving speeches, which blurs the public service/private business line even further. As has become the norm with Hillary's State Department activities, nothing here is a "quit the presidential race"-level scandal—but neither does any of it give one a great deal of confidence in her integrity.

Aug. 23 2016 3:39 PM

In Landmark Decision, NLRB Allows Graduate Students at Private Universities to Unionize

On Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students employed by private universities are permitted to unionize under federal law. The 3-1 decision reversed a previous NLRB ruling that barred these students from unionizing in 2004. Every Ivy League school opposed the decision, which was spurred by Columbia University’s efforts to shut down a union drive on campus.

The critical question at issue in this litigation was whether students employed by a private university are “employees” as defined by the National Labor Relations Act. Twelve years ago, a Republican-dominated NLRB found that working students aren’t employees under federal law because their relationship with their employer was “primarily educational.” That board also found that collective bargaining between a university and its employed graduate students could not “coexist successfully with student-teacher relationships, with the educational process, and with the traditional goals of higher education.” Finally, it held that “collective bargaining would unduly infringe upon traditional academic freedoms,” including the “right to speak freely in the classroom.”

But the NLRB—which has since swung majority-Democrat—found on Tuesday that these rationales simply do not hold up to scrutiny. First, the board rejected argument that graduate students cannot be employees because their relationship to their employer remains “primarily educational.” This interpretation, the board wrote, cannot actually be found in the “statutory text” of federal labor law, and cannot be derived from its “fundamental policy.” Instead, the board asked whether colleges and students had a “common-law employment relationship,” with the school exerting control over its student employees and compensating them for their labor. Because such a relationship obviously exists, students may be considered “employees” of the universities for which they work.

Aug. 23 2016 2:57 PM

Senator Calls Obama “Drug Dealer in Chief,” Seems Unfamiliar With How Drug Deals Work

Republican Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is in a tough spot. He's in a tight re-election race in a blue-leaning state and, whether out of expedience or conviction, he's denounced Donald Trump and spoken out in support of Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. But he also has to remind conservative voters that he is still, in fact, a Republican. Such is the confluence of factors that seems to have resulted in Kirk's strange recent announcement that, by making the $400 million payment that the U.S. sent Iran in January before the release of several American prisoners, President Obama behaved like a "drug dealer." Via the Springfield, Illinois, State Journal-Register:

“We can’t have the president of the United States acting like the drug dealer in chief,” Kirk said, “giving clean packs of money to a ... state sponsor of terror. Those 500-euro notes will pop up across the Middle East. .... We’re going to see problems in multiple [countries] because of that money given to them.”

If you're inclined to read a racial tinge into the "drug dealer" language, consider that Kirk has in the past made headlines by referring to bachelor South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham as "a bro with no ho" and by describing "the black community" as "one we drive faster through" because of crime and poverty. (Yes, he even said "the black community" and not "black neighborhoods." Nothing like a good Sunday drive through the black community!)

Also, not to toot my own cool-guy horn, but I've seen a few drug deals take place in my time—I got my college degree from an infamous party school—and at no point did any of them involve the exchange of cash for foreign political prisoners.

Aug. 23 2016 1:08 PM

A Deep Dive Into the Harassment Allegations Against Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly—and Scott Brown

Former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros filed a lawsuit in New York state court on Monday alleging that she suffered frequent and outrageous sexual harassment during her time at the network. The suit implicates former chief executive Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly—few surprises there based on recent and past history. But perhaps more damningly, the suit also claims that Bill Shine, one of the men who replaced Ailes as co-president of Fox News, enabled Tantaros’ mistreatment—and accuses former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown of harassment. Here’s a deep dive into the biggest allegations in the suit.

As my Slate colleague Nora Caplan-Bricker noted, Tantaros’ complaint begins by declaring that “Fox News masquerades as defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny.” It goes on to back up each of these claims, especially with regard to Ailes, whom former Fox star Gretchen Carlson sued for harassment this summer. Since then, at least 20 other women have accused Ailes of harassment; most have requested anonymity.

Among other transgressions Tantaros details in her complaint, Ailes allegedly:

  • Told Tantaros to “come over here so I can give you a hug” asked her to “turn around so I can get a good look at you” (twice), and said, “I bet you look good in a bikini.”
  • Asked Tantaros whether Greg Gutfeld and Dana Perino are each gay, then (puzzlingly) asked whether they were “sleeping together.”
  • Called various female Fox contributors “easy,” “nuts,” “fat,” and “a stalker.”
  • Said Dana Perino “is uptight. You get the feeling that she never lets her hair down, but if she did, she’d be a good time.”
  • Said Kimberly Guilfoyle is a “Puerto Rican whore” and a “Puerto Rican streetfighter.”
  • Asserted that Harris Faulkner “has the tendency to look like the angry black woman.”

Aug. 23 2016 9:21 AM

Now Trump Is Saying He’ll Imitate Obama’s Deportation Policy(!)

Slate's Josh Voorhees wrote Monday that Donald Trump seems to have an intentional strategy of making shifting, seemingly contradictory statements about how he'd treat undocumented immigrants if elected president. And then, Monday night, Trump appeared on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor to cite President Obama—who Trump has previously accused of ruining the United States with an "open borders" immigration policy—as an example of someone who takes the right approach to deportations. The transcript:

We are going to get rid of all of the bad ones. We have gang members, we have killers. We have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country. We are going to get them out. The police know who they're. They are known by law enforcement, who they are ... They are going to be out of this country so fast your head will spin. We have existing laws that will allow to you do that.
As far as everybody else, we are going to go through the process. What people don't know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country. Bush the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. I'm going to to do the same thing and I said that. We want to do it in a very humane manner.

So—just like he's said all along, a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for four more years of Obama!

Aug. 23 2016 12:13 AM

Melania Trump Hires Lawyer That Bankrupted Gawker Who Threatens to Sue Everyone but Gawker

The media scrutiny of Donald Trump has intensified since the convention and that scrutiny has spilled over, dousing the rest of the Trump family of late. Melania Trump, for example, has had her immigration status when she first came to the U.S. questioned by Politico and has beefed up her legal might in response, initiating legal action against the U.K.’s Daily Mail tabloid newspaper for recently publishing a story claiming she worked as an escort nearly two decades ago. Melania has accused the British tabloid along with Politico, among others, of “making false and defamatory statements.” This is surely not the first time those words have been uttered by a Trump employee with a law degree, but perhaps most significantly, Melania has hired Los Angeles–based attorney Charles Harder, the lawyer at the center of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s successful crusade to take down Gawker, to represent her.

Here’s Harder’s statement about the legal action:

Mrs. Trump has placed several news organizations on notice of her legal claims against them, including Daily Mail among others, for making false and defamatory statements about her supposedly having been an ‘escort’ in the 1990s. All such statements are 100% false, highly damaging to her reputation, and personally hurtful. She understands that news media have certain leeway in a presidential campaign, but outright lying about her in this way exceeds all bounds of appropriate news reporting and human decency.”

Donald Trump threatens to sue most people out of sheer muscle memory, so it’s unclear if the latest move by Melania Trump amounts to much more than bluster borne out of a realist Trumpian worldview in dealing with the media. Trump already appeared to be at DEFCON 1 in his dealings with the press, but the hiring of Harder, who shopped for plaintiffs, including Hulk Hogan, to sue Gawker for millions in order to exact retribution for Peter Thiel, will likely be interpreted as an unwelcome escalation by media outlets that continue to struggle for access to the Republican candidate for president of the United States.

Aug. 22 2016 9:48 PM

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe Restores Voting Rights to 13,000 Felons

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday restored voting rights to 13,000 felons in the state who have completed their sentences, as part of his ongoing battle with the state Legislature over a larger legal push to allow roughly 200,000 more individuals convicted of felonies to vote. In April, the Democratic governor signed an executive order that would enfranchise felons who, by Virginia law, must personally apply to the governor to be able to vote upon the completion of their sentences. Republicans sued to stop the move saying the blanket restoration of voting rights amounted to executive overreach and the Virginia Supreme Court agreed, invalidating the move.

McAuliffe has framed the move as an effort to restore basic fairness and restore rights to individuals who have served their terms. “Virginia is one of 10 states that do not automatically restore rights upon completion of a felony sentence and one of only four states that require an application by the felon and action by the governor, according to the McAuliffe administration, which cited research showing one of every five African-Americans of voting age in Virginia has lost the right to vote,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Republicans, however, saw the move by the longtime Clinton ally as an attempt to boost Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances in the state come November. Adding felons to the voter roll has the potential to boost the state’s registered voters by nearly 4 percent, according to the Times-Dispatch. Sloppy implementation of the initial executive order didn’t help McAuliffe’s case; more than 100 sex offenders still in prison and several convicted killers on probation elsewhere slipped through the cracks.