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The Kickback Kids

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The Kickback Kids

Peter Schweizer’s new book documents the Clintons’ disturbing financial dealings. May 17, 2015
Politics and law

Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, by Peter Schweizer (Harper, 256 pp., $27.99)

George Washington Plunkitt, a late- nineteenth-century New York State legislator, made his extra money in a straightforward way. “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em,” he said after people criticized him for patronage, corrupt land sales, and other business-as-usual Tammany Hall goings-on. But Plunkitt distinguished between “honest graft” and the regular kind. It was okay to steal if the stealing was part of a project for the public good—taking a kickback on, say, building a firehouse. By contrast, it wouldn’t be okay to steal at the expense of the public—say, taking a bribe from someone selling poisonous medicine. Bill and Hillary Clinton are good students of Plunkitt’s first lesson, according to Peter Schweizer’s new bestseller, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. Since Bill left the presidency, the Clintons seen a lot of opportunities—and took ‘em all.

Last year, Hillary confessed her and her husband’s chief motive over the 14 years since they left the White House: money. She told Diane Sawyer that the family was “dead broke” in 2001 when Bill’s presidency ended. In the White House, she said, “we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses,” and for daughter Chelsea to begin attaining her four college degrees. After the White House years, “you know, it was not easy. Bill has worked really hard . . . . He had to make double the money because of, obviously, taxes . . . and get us houses and take care of family members.”

Looking for a way to stay on top, the Clintons perfected a modern private-public business model: the Clinton Foundation, a charity with the noble-sounding goals of making people around the world healthier and of slowing global climate change. Running a charity, much less a charity operating in Africa, South America, and other global trouble spots, is complicated work, and the Clintons had no experience. No matter: hundreds of millions of dollars poured in. Donors gave to the foundation itself and to Bill directly for making speeches. Between 2001 and 2012, Bill made $105.5 million in such speeches.

During those 12 years, Hillary served her country, first as senator from New York and later as secretary of state. “No one has even come close in recent years to enriching themselves on the scale of the Clintons while . . . a spouse continued to serve in public office,” writes Schweizer. As Hillary moved from Capitol Hill to Foggy Bottom, Bill’s fees went up, especially from governments and business leaders overseas—both prohibited from donating to American candidates or political parties.

Reputable investors shy away from getting involved in places like Nigeria, Russia, Colombia, and Kazakhstan, seeing too much corruption. Not the Clintons. “Bill flew around the world making speeches,” Schweizer writes. “Very often on these trips he was accompanied by ‘close’ friends . . . who happened to have business interests pending in these countries . . . . Meanwhile, bureaucratic or legislative obstacles were mysteriously cleared or approvals granted with the purview of his wife.” The happy ending? “Huge donations . . . flowed into the Clinton Foundation while Bill received enormous speaking fees underwritten by the very businessmen who benefited.”

Let’s take the most egregious example, which New York Times reporters independently verified. In 2009, Rosatom, a state-owned Russian nuclear company, started buying up Uranium One, a Canadian firm that owned significant uranium assets in America, thanks to deals that several longtime Clinton associates from Canada had put together in the early 2000s (another interesting story that Schweizer tells). Uranium is an ingredient in nuclear weapons; Russia buying up American uranium is a big deal for several reasons, one of which is that Moscow provides Iran with nuclear materials and technology. The Rosatom deal required State Department approval, through the secretary’s position on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. In 2010, Hillary’s State Department helped wave the Russians through. A few years earlier, she had condemned the George W. Bush-era committee for approving the United Arab Emirates’ purchase of American ports. As Schweizer paraphrases her thinking, “there is a significant difference between a private company and a foreign government entity” buying American assets.

Follow the money trail to see Hillary evolve from being a hawk to a dove here. “Several multimillion-dollar Clinton Foundation donors were at the center” of the Uranium One sale, Schweizer writes. Over the years, people involved in the deal had given or would give more than $145 million to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman, Ian Tefler, a Canadian, indirectly gave more than $2 million when Hillary was secretary of state. The Obama administration likely never knew about it, though, despite the Clintons’ pledge to disclose key foreign donations to the State Department. Tefler, a Canadian, made the donation through Fernwood, his own foundation, but Fernwood’s disclosures to Canadian tax authorities don’t jibe with those made by the Clinton Foundation.

It gets worse. Between 2010 and 2012, the Clinton Foundation and Bill himself took $2.6 million in donations and a speech fee from Salida Capital Foundation, another Canadian entity. Salida itself had just received a $3.3 million anonymous donation. Schweizer uncovered a subsidiary of Rosatom called Salida Capital. “If it were the same firm,” Schweizer writes, “an entity owned and controlled by Rosatom funneled millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation at the very time Hillary would have been involved in deciding whether to approve Rosatom’s purchase of Uranium One.”

As Hillary’s State Department was deciding whether to approve the deal, Bill showed up in Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin and to give a half-hour speech there, his first in five years. His fee was $500,000, paid by a company called Renaissance Capital. The Clintons told the State Department that RenCap is an investment bank, but they failed to note that, since Putin took over Russia in 2000, RenCap has become “populated by former Russian intelligence officers with close ties to Putin,” as Schweizer writes. One Putin associate held two jobs from 2006 to 2009: domestic-intelligence officer and RenCap first vice president.

It is hard not to conclude that Hillary Clinton took money from Putin’s Russian spies just as the State Department that she controlled had a key role in approving Russia’s purchase of key American nuclear assets. The money just took a circuitous route. The Uranium One deal fails Plunkitt’s “honest graft” test. As Schweizer writes, “the Russian purchase of a large share of America’s uranium assets raised serious national security concerns.”

In 2010, Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake. The impoverished nation would require billions in foreign donations to rebuild. Who got himself put in charge of directing those donations? Bill Clinton, as co-chairman of the Interim Haitian Relief Committee. Where would much of the relief money come from? Hillary Clinton, via the U.S. Agency for International Development, a State Department arm. USAID approved cash for a “mobile money initiative” run by Ireland’s Digicel, whose owner, Denis O’Brien, is a key Clinton patron. Bill and Hillary, directly or indirectly, also approved Haiti contracts for companies controlled by Clinton sponsors in housing reconstruction and economic development. The housing contractors performed poorly. Here, too, it’s hard to avoid concluding that the Clintons took money out of the hands of Haitian earthquake survivors. The money again took a circuitous route.

From Kazakhstan to Nigeria, from logging endangered forests to exporting gold, the pattern continues: the Clintons side with oligarchs and their favored politicians over powerless people, animals, and trees. In 2005, Bill traveled to Kazakhstan and stood with that country’s dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, a human-rights violator. Just before a sham election, Bill “gave [Nazarbayev] the international credibility he craved,” writes Schweizer. Clinton “praised Nazarbayev for ‘opening up the social and political life of your country.’” The year before, Hillary, as senator, had condemned Nazarbayev’s record. But in 2008, she was a no-show for Senate hearings on that record. In between, a friend of Bill who had secured lucrative Kazakh mining concessions began giving the Clinton Foundation tens of millions of dollars.

Schweizer’s deliberate writing style strengthens his case. There’s no sex and few women. The author relies almost entirely on public documents, from State Department cables via Wikileaks to global tax records to foreign-language press accounts. When he isn’t sure of something, he says so. This is no breathless, Clinton-hating book dependent on third-hand speculation. Even Schweizer’s subtitle is careful: “foreign governments and businesses helped make Bill and Hillary rich,” he says. They didn’t do it all.

Media Matters, a watchdog over conservative causes, has blasted Schweizer for errors. Some are genuine mistakes—he cites as a source a fake press release—but much of Media Matters’ criticism dings Schweizer for a key point he preemptively conceded in the book: he cannot prove any explicit quid pro quo, and he cannot prove that Hillary directly intervened in many State Department matters. Media Matters’ critique depends, too, on a recent interview that ABC’s George Stephanopoulos did with Schweizer—in which Stephanopoulos failed to disclose that he, too, had donated heavily to the Clinton Foundation.

If, to defend Hillary, you must rely on debating whether the secretary of state indeed has control over the State Department, or, alternatively, if you must whine that Republicans behave badly, too, you have a weak case. With months’ worth of warning, the Clintons have not answered the overriding question: Why take this money and create even the appearance of a scandal? Do they need the millions that badly?

Hillary, now a presidential candidate, participated in actions that seem little different from the alleged actions that got both the New York State Senate leader and the New York State Assembly leader indicted this year—essentially, bribery. Outside of New York, the abuses of these state officials won’t matter much. It matters a lot, however, that the Russians control much of our uranium. That foreign dictators and oligarchs now believe that the American government is biddable matters, too. Ultimately, American voters will have to decide how much. If Americans elect Hillary president, they can’t blame her or her husband for continuing to hold them in contempt.

Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images

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