WASHINGTON – Newly surfaced emails show the Clinton Foundation asked the State Department about proceeding with two presumably paid speeches for former President Bill Clinton in North Korea and the Republic of the Congo, despite each engagement’s ties to repressive regimes.
The emails, obtained by FoxNews.com, surfaced as part of a records request by the group Citizens United.
In both sets of 2012 emails between the foundation led by Bill Clinton and the department led by wife Hillary Clinton, the former president’s team acknowledged the invitations could raise concerns. But they asked the State Department, which screened all such speeches by the ex-president, anyway.
In one May 14, 2012 email, Clinton Foundation staffer Amitabh Desai forwarded an email with the subject line “North Korea invitation” to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s then-chief of staff at the State Department.
“Dear Cheryl, we’d welcome your feedback on the attached invitation – would USG have concerns?” Desai wrote.
Four days later, Desai sent Mills another email. “Is it safe to assume USG would have concerns about WJC accepting the attached invitation related to North Korea? Thanks, Ami.”
Mills responded, “Decline it.”
ABC News first reported on the emails.
Hillary Clinton, on the sidelines of the Democratic National Committee meeting in Minneapolis Friday, defended the process for vetting these requests.
Clinton admitted receiving “some unusual requests” but said “they all went through the process” and, ultimately, the invitations in question were declined.
Though in a curious aside, the 2016 Democratic presidential frontrunner noted her husband went to North Korea in 2009 to rescue reporters.
“You might not recall but [President] Obama sent Bill to North Korea to rescue journalists who were captured,” Clinton told reporters. “Every offer we made was rebuffed and we offered many people to go and finally North Koreans said if Bill comes, we will give him two journalists.”
Clinton left the podium before any follow-ups could be asked.
In the case of the North Korea invite, while the foundation acknowledged potential concerns, the official followed up in early June after Mills said to decline it. Desai said the matter came from Tony Rodham, Hillary Clinton’s brother, and they would like to relay “any specific concerns” as Rodham was about to meet with Bill Clinton.
Mills responded on June 9, 2012: “If he needs more let him know his wife knows and I am happy to call him secure when he is near a secure line.”
The email exchange does not include much detail on the invitation, in contrast with the messages on the Congo request.
They show the speaking engagement in Brazzaville came with a hefty $650,000 speaking fee – one of numerous such engagements through which the former president has made millions since leaving office.
The catch: the event included the leaders of not only the Republic of the Congo but Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila – whose government has an abysmal human rights record. And Clinton, under the terms of the invite, would have to stay after the speech to greet Kabila and other dignitaries.
The Harry Walker Agency, which worked with the Clinton Foundation on coordinating speeches, recommended in a June 6, 2012 email declining the invitation.
“I anticipate the location for the event and the parties involved might give you pause,” Don Walker, the agency’s president, wrote in an email to the foundation.
“We have gently asked if the venue must be in the Congo, and if the Head of State involvement is necessary,” Walker wrote in the email. “They tell us that both are mandatory. For that reason we anticipate you will want us to quickly decline.”
From there, Desai forwarded the email to Mills, Clinton aide Huma Abedin and other State Department officials saying despite the issues, “WJC wants to know what state thinks of it if he took it 100% for the foundation. We’d welcome your thoughts.”
Ultimately, the engagement did not go forward.
“The emails speak volumes to the ongoing undercurrent that Bill Clinton would take money from anyone,” David Bossie, president of Citizens United, told FoxNews.com on Friday. He disputed Hillary Clinton’s claims that the State Department vetted every request the foundation made and argued the emails show “a pattern.”
Bossie said that while some Clinton supporters might use the emails to show the system set up by the State Department and the Clinton Foundation worked, the emails speak to a seedier side of the Clinton Foundation.
“If this was a one-and-done issue, I’d be like, it’s only once and they handled it correctly,” Bossie said, adding, “If their pushback is that the speeches didn’t happen and that it’s a great example of them doing a good job, I’d say, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t try.”