By LISA LERER and STEPHEN BRAUN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department gave speedy, near-blanket approval to hundreds of lucrative appearances by former President Bill Clinton during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. Five things to know about a review of records on this matter by The Associated Press:
BIG PROFITS, LIMITED VETTING
Officials in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser approved at least 330 requests for Bill Clinton’s appearance at speeches, dinners and events. More than 220 of those were paid events that earned the family nearly $50 million, according to the review of State Department documents and Hillary Clinton’s financial disclosure forms.
While the State Department’s lawyers concluded that most of Clinton’s speeches did not violate foreign policy interests, some of his appearances could pose political risk for his wife’s presidential bid by giving Republican opponents an opening to depict the couple as beholden to powerful interests. Over a three-day whirlwind of travel in November 2011, for example, Bill Clinton addressed telecom executives in Hong Kong, flew to Shanghai for an event with Chinese business leaders and touched down in Disney World to speak with customers of an Indian outsourcing company, who gathered in Orlando for their annual meeting. His total haul: $1.56 million.
AN OFFICE UNDER STRAIN
Officials at the State Department sped through the requests while rarely raising concerns about potential conflicts. At the same time, the agency’s ethics office, which had primary responsibility for the decisions, was hobbled by “strained program operations,” according to a September 2012 report by the Office of Government Ethics, the top U.S. ethics agency.
While most internal emails between State Department ethics officials about Bill Clinton’s proposed appearances were redacted to protect internal legal considerations, snippets that survived the censoring depict a vetting process that appeared both stressed by the workload and rushed by the former president’s deadlines.
WHO HEARD FROM BILL CLINTON?
Clinton spoke to companies across the globe, among them foreign governments and several financial firms under legal scrutiny. For example, he collected $650,000 from Barclays, speaking in Davos and Singapore, just months after the British bank agreed to pay nearly $300 million in penalties for violating financial sanctions against Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Libya and Burma — the result of a case brought by the Justice Department.
The legal issue had hardly been a secret: Barclays had acknowledged in its annual reports — as recently as the same month that Clinton first requested approval for the appearances from the State Department in March 2010 — that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and others for sanctions violations.
CLINTON LOYALISTS DOMINATE PROCESS
On all sides, the process involved lawyers with long ties to the Clinton family. Cheryl Mills was Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff at the State Department and was frequently included on the other end of emails during the State Department review of the requests. Mills was a former White House deputy counsel who collaborated with the family’s personal lawyer, David Kendall, on Bill Clinton’s impeachment legal defense before working for Hillary Clinton at the State Department. Kendall helped develop the vetting process for Clinton’s appearances, sending a memo to the State Department outlining the policy in January 2009.
Less than a month after Hillary Clinton was confirmed, a request to approve some of Bill Clinton’s proposed private consulting work was sent by his long-time personal aide Doug Band. This prompted Mills to prod the agency’s deputy legal adviser to review the arrangement. Approval for the former president to enter into a consultancy arrangement with Band’s corporate advisory firm, Teneo, came in 2011, allowing Clinton to offer “services regarding geopolitical, economic and social trends” for three years.
WHAT IF SHE WINS?
As Hillary Clinton moves forward with her presidential campaign, the ease with which her husband was repeatedly cleared to address companies and governments around the world highlights potential ethical complications that could intensify during her campaign, and if she becomes president.
The potential “first dude” has said he intends to continue accepting speaking fees, at least during the presidential campaign. “I got to pay our bills,” he told NBC’s “Today” show.
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