Did the Clinton Foundation, for all its good works, serve as a giant slush fund?
That question has surged to the forefront of the campaign in the wake of another Wikileaks dump, and one of the biggest accusers turns out to be Chelsea Clinton.
The Chelsea criticism is a bombshell, one that exploded with enough force that it propelled the lead story in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and an above-the-fold piece in the Washington Post.
This is stolen material, as Hillary Clinton’s campaign regularly reminds us, but it echoes what the foundation’s harshest critics have long argued: that there was an amorphous line at best between fundraising for charitable projects and lucrative income for Bill Clinton and those around him.
Now we have the former president’s daughter, whose name is on the foundation, accusing his aides of “hustling” business to win clients at foundation events. We have Chelsea insisting that these aides were taking “significant sums of money from my parents personally.”
And we have longtime Hillary loyalist Huma Abedin concerned about the former secretary of State promising to attend a foundation event in Morocco at the request of its king, who had just promised a $12-million donation to the foundation. “She created this mess and she knows it,” Abedin wrote.
As the Times puts it, “In the years before Hillary Clinton announced she would run again for president, her top aides expressed profound concerns in internal emails about how foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and Bill Clinton’s own moneymaking ventures would affect Mrs. Clinton’s political future.”
Most voters aren’t going to drill down into the details. But all this plays into perhaps the most damaging narrative against her, that she and her husband skirt ethical rules, are not trustworthy, are cashing in on public service and are too close to big donors and corporations that help support their lifestyle.
As with the earlier dump in which top advisers challenged Hillary’s political instincts and refusal to apologize for the email scandal, these messages pack a punch because they are from people who are within the couple’s orbit.
The same goes for a memo about “Bill Clinton Inc.” from Doug Band, a top aide and then a key player at the Clinton Foundation. He said part of his job was securing “in-kind services for the President and his family — for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like.”
As the Post puts it: “Band also detailed a circle of enrichment in which he raised money for the Clinton Foundation from top-tier corporations such as Dow Chemical and Coca-Cola that were clients of his firm, Teneo, while pressing many of those same donors to provide personal income to the former president.”
Band wrote, for instance, that Teneo’s partners had raised more than $8 million for the foundation and $3 million in speaking fees for Bill Clinton—and that he’d lined up deals that could pay the former president $66 million over the next nine years.
(Band, in an earlier leaked email, dismissed Chelsea as a “spoiled brat kid,” but it seems she was trying to bring some accountability to the operation.)
In one example cited by the Journal, businessman Declan Kelly, a friend of Bill, introduced him to a top UBS Group executive, Bob McCann. “Mr. Kelly subsequently asked Mr. Mccann to support the foundation…[and] also encouraged Mr. Mccann to invite President Clinton to give several paid speeches, which he has done.” The take from those speeches: $1.5 million.
At some point, you have to ask: How many millions did the Clintons need to lead a luxurious lifestyle? And why risk how bad this would look as Hillary was gearing up to run for her husband’s old job?
Of course, she is running against Donald Trump, who flaunts a gold-plated existence and has run into legal problems with his own foundation. But he has an actual business, and much of the Clintons’ income was tied to the family charity.
This is not going to swing the election. But with Trump having gone several days without saying something controversial, the news environment, however briefly, has turned against Clinton in this final stretch.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.