Weeks after Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, the State Department objected to a proposed consultancy arrangement offered to Bill Clinton by media mogul Haim Saban, citing concerns about conflict of interest. Nevertheless, public records show that Saban’s nonprofit gave millions to the Clinton Foundation throughout Hillary Clinton’s tenure.
Saban, a billionaire best known for creating Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, has dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship and has spent heavily to support Israel. “His greatest concern, he says, is to protect Israel, by strengthening the United States-Israel relationship,” The New Yorker noted in a 2010 profile of Saban. At a conference in Israel, the article said, Saban had outlined three methods for influencing American politics: “make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets.”
Saban’s foreign-policy activism did not escape the attention of the State Department. The agency’s designated ethics adviser, James H. Thessin, wrote in a memo that his objection to the proposed consultancy was “based on the fact that Haim Saban, a founder of this entity, is actively involved in foreign affairs issues, particularly with regards to the Middle East, which is a priority area for the Secretary.”
Thessin’s memo, one of 1,017 pages of records obtained by Judicial Watch, was the only instance in which the Department of State objected to one of Bill Clinton’s proposed speaking engagements or consultancy agreements.
The Saban Family Foundation and Haim Saban declined National Review’s request for comment and would not answer questions about how much they had given to the Clinton Foundation while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state. The Clinton Foundation lists donations from “Cheryl and Haim Saban & The Saban Family Foundation” in the $10 million to $25 million range.
Since 2009, Hillary and Bill Clinton have both given speeches at Saban Family Foundation forums. Then–secretary of state Clinton delivered a major policy address on Israel at one such forum. And in 2013, Saban’s wife, Cheryl, joined the Clinton Foundation’s board.
It’s not clear whether anyone at Foggy Bottom reviewed or approved these donations or Hillary Clinton’s speaking engagement at the Saban Family Foundation forum; the State Department did not respond to National Review’s repeated e-mail inquiries and phone calls by deadline.The Clinton Foundation did not respond to e-mails, and the voicemail of its spokesperson was full. The Clinton campaign was similarly unresponsive to National Review’s e-mailed requests for comment.
Saban has been a longtime friend and supporter of the Clintons, also donating more than $12 million to Democrats since 2002, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He was a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s previous presidential campaign, and in addition to giving to the Clinton Foundation, he has also donated around $5 million to the Clinton Library.
The Sabans have continued to support Hillary Clinton long after she left her post at the State Department; this past Thursday, Cheryl and Haim Saban hosted a $2,700-per-person fundraiser for her at their Los Angeles home.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center.