Hillary's Big Ethics Problem: Bill
What guidelines should govern Bill Clinton's future activities if Hillary becomes Secretary of State? Recent events suggest that at least two are necessary: no more favors for human rights violators in exchange for big contributions to the Clinton Foundation; and no more lying to the news media about such deals.
It's worth remembering the nearly-forgotten story we could call "Bill Clinton and the Kazakh uranium." As Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr. of the New York Times reported in January, 2008, Bill Clinton was part of a corrupt three-way deal in 2005 involving the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose human rights record has been criticized by many, including the Bush White House -- and Senator Hillary Clinton.
Kazakhstan has uranium--one fifth of the world's reserves. The president of Kazakhstan wanted to be named head of an international election-monitoring organization--the same one that had ruled his election fraudulent. What to do?
Bill Clinton had the solution: it centered on a Canadian financier named Frank Giustra who wanted to get in on the Kazakh uranium projects. Clinton and Giustra flew to Kazakhstan in September 2005 on Giustra's private jet and met with President Nazarabayev. According to the New York Times, Bill "expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader's bid to head an international organization that monitors elections," despite official opposition from the US as well as from his own wife.
Two days later, Giustra got the uranium deal he wanted. And shortly after that, the Clinton Foundation got its single largest contribution -- from a foundation controlled by Giustra -- $31 million. The contribution was secret, of course.
Then Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr. of the New York Times got onto the story. And then the Clinton people started lying.
When the Times asked about Bill's trip to Kazakhstan with the Canadian financier, Clinton sent a written response declaring that the two took the trip together "to see first-hand the philanthropic work done by his foundation." The paper reported that "a spokesman for Mr. Clinton" said Bill "did nothing to help" Giustra get his deal.
That story fell apart when the president of the Kazakh uranium project told the Times that the Canadian did discuss the deal directly with the Kazakh president, and that, according to the paper, "his friendship with Mr. Clinton 'of course made an impression.'"
But what does any of this have to do with Hillary? Quite a bit, it turns out: key staff members of her campaign also played key roles in the Clinton Foundation. Hillary's campaign chairman and chief fund-raiser, Terry McAuliffe, according to the New York Times, also "led the foundation's fund-raising and sits on its board." Hillary's campaign general counsel, Cheryl Mills, also sits on the foundation board. Hillary's campaign press secretary, Jay Carson, previously held a communications position at the foundation.
Frank Giustra is the biggest contributor to the Clinton Foundation, and the one the New York Times investigated. But the foundation has 208,000 contributors. How many other Kazakh-type deals did Bill make with them? Clinton is keeping their names secret from the public (although he has turned them over to the Obama team vetting Hillary).
Here's one more guideline regarding Hillary as Secretary of State: no more secrecy for donors to the Clinton Foundation.
Jon Wiener started writing for The Nation in 1984. Since then he's written more than 100 stories and reviews for the magazine, many about American history, university politics, and California life. He's also professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, and a Los Angeles radio host.
© 2008 The Nation