Politics & Policy

Teflon Tony Rodham, the Clintons’ Shady Id

(Photo Illustration: NRO; Rodham: Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty)

Sitting in a courtroom three years ago, after skipping out on a sizable legal bill, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s youngest brother struck a reassuring tone: Don’t worry, the money is coming.

“I deal through the Clinton Foundation,” Tony Rodham said, according to court transcripts uncovered by the New York Times. He gave his word that Hillary and Bill were setting him up with Haitian-government permits to build a $22 million housing development in the earthquake-stricken country.

“I hound my brother-in-law, because it’s his fund that we’re going to get our money from,” Rodham explained, promising a $1 million check once the Haitian-government paved the way, enough both to cover the outstanding legal fees and take his family to Disney World.

The construction deal fell through, but Rodham managed to settle his debt. And the next year, he got another crack at making money in Haiti’s heavily-regulated economy when he joined the advisory board of a company, VCS Mining, which was developing a gold mine on the island. He’d met the company’s CEO at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. “I go to see old friends [at the meetings,]” Rodham told the Washington Post, “but you never know what can happen.”

Rodham and President Bill Clinton in 1999. (Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty)

From the moment the Clintons walked through the White House doors in January of 1993, Rodham has proven remarkably adept at harnessing their political horsepower for his personal gain. His schemes don’t always pan out, and they have caused numerous headaches for Hillary and Bill. But Rodham’s fortunes have always been tied to theirs, his bank account waxing and waning in time with the Clintons’ political prospects. He may lack their sophistication, but to many observers, Tony is the unvarnished embodiment of the Clintons’ decades-long dance with crony capitalism.

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Rodham sits atop of a pile of money acquired through a vast tangle of enterprises just a little less secret and complex than those of his sister and brother-in-law. “There’s really no better definition of what this is,” says David Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United and a longtime Clinton foe. “This is a person who is not directly the principal, but he’s the brother – or, in the 1990s, the brother-in-law – of the president, using these open doors of family to shake people down.”

Tony is the unvarnished embodiment of the Clintons’ decades-long dance with crony capitalism.

“A sibling’s power is tremendous,” says presidential historian Doug Wead. “In many parts of the Third World, the sister gets the Coca-Cola franchise and the brother gets to build the big shopping center. Now, unfortunately, that kind of corruption exists in the United States.”

Reporters understand that presidential siblings sometimes behave badly, and are naturally reluctant to press too hard on a politician’s family. Recent news that Rodham, in cahoots with Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, received special favors from the Department of Homeland Security to secure visas for foreign nationals, came and went with little fanfare. But as Rodham’s malfeasance becomes more brazen once again in the wake of his sister’s presidential run and the Clintons reel over scandals involving their own money, some wonder if that era of invulnerability is nearing its end.

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“It’s the same dynamic, the same phenomenon you see all through history — from James Monroe to modern times,” says Wead. “But you never see it quite on this level — this flagrant, this in your face, this arrogant.”

Rodham led a hard-scrabble life before his brother-in-law’s ascension to the White House. He struggled in school, trying twice but ultimately failing to earn a college degree. He worked as an insurance salesman, a repo man, and a prison guard — sometimes relying on the Clintons to secure even these unglamorous gigs. For nearly ten years he lived with older brother Hugh Rodham in a south-Florida condo, working as a private detective and a process server.

Rodham (at left) with President Clinton and brother Hugh in 1996.

Everything changed after Bill Clinton’s 1992 nomination, when Rodham suddenly gained employment as a constituency-outreach consultant with the Democratic National Committee. He didn’t hold the job long — from the get-go, he seemed more interested in leveraging his White House connections to pursue exotic business ventures.

In 1997, while working as a consultant for a company trying to break into post-Soviet Russia, Rodham arranged a meeting between Bill Clinton and the mayor of Moscow, who was rumored to have mob ties. That success led to more work in the former Soviet bloc, and in 1999, he and his brother Hugh worked with politicians and government officials from the ex-Soviet state of Georgia to develop a $118 million hazelnut-exporting business. The Rodham brothers caused an international crisis when a rival of Georgia’s U.S.-backed president touted his meeting with them as a White House seal of approval. The deal was ultimately scuttled, but Rodham continued to meet with other third-world strongmen, including the autocratic prime minister of Cambodia.

His foreign ventures died down for a time after the Clintons left office, and his finances crumbled. Hillary Clinton would later say that this was the time her family was “dead broke,” so her brother, of course, suffered too. By 2007, he was behind on his mortgage payments and owed his ex-wife $158,000 in alimony and child support.

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But, as usual, Rodham’s fortunes rose with those of his sister: His work picked up again when Hillary was tapped as secretary of state in 2009. Using the Clinton Foundation’s charitable work in Haiti as a vehicle, Rodham energetically sought business opportunities in the island nation’s tightly controlled economy. By 2013, he was working for VCS, the company developing a controversial gold mine in Haiti.

The mining company’s CEO told the Washington Post that family ties had nothing to do with Rodham’s hiring, explaining instead that Rodham’s work at investment firm Gulf Coast Funds Management gave him access to the investors needed for the Haitian project.

‘This isn’t, “Oh, that stumbling, bumbling brother.” This rises to the level of potentially illegal activity.’

Rodham was hired as president and CEO of Gulf Coast Funds in 2010, by its then-chairman Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton friend and ally who was elected governor of Virginia in 2013. The group worked to secure U.S. visas for wealthy foreign investors, primarily to fund McAuliffe’s green-energy company GreenTech Automotive, which itself drew scrutiny from multiple federal agencies.

When the Department of Homeland Security blocked the visa of one Chinese investor due to national-security concerns, Rodham and McAuliffe pooled their political clout to pressure deputy DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to grant the request. The department’s inspector general found evidence of ethics violations and improper political influence — sparking a massive scandal and setting off investigations from the FBI and the SEC.

“This isn’t, ‘Oh, that stumbling, bumbling brother,’” says Bossie. “This rises to the level of potentially illegal activity.”

Reached for comment, Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill recycles a statement first provided to the New York Times. “Secretary Clinton loves her family more than anything,” he says. “Her brothers have always been there for her, and she will always be there for them. Each though have their own lives, their own jobs, their own ups and downs. It is for them to decide how much of their private lives to share publicly in the context of their sister’s campaign.”

Former Clinton White House counsel and “friend of the family” Lanny Davis speaks to National Review on behalf of Rodham himself. “Tony lives his own life,” he says in a statement, “and while these charges are false — the same innuendo contradicted by the facts — he is not going to [comment] as part of a political charade.”

“[Rodham] hopes his desire for privacy is understood by both the Republicans and the media,” Davis continues, “but either way he plans on vigorously guarding his own family’s privacy by not responding to purely political attacks on someone who is not a public official.”

Hillary Clinton with Terry McAuliffe in 2013. (Greg Kahn/Getty)

Tim Graham, the director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, says the complexity of Rodham’s many shady business dealings explains the media’s relative disinterest. “The Clintons count on there being so much information that [the press] can’t master it all,” he says. “So many scandals, so many scandal figures, so many different things going on.”

Graham also sees a partisan element to the media blackout. He notes that when Neil Bush, the son of George H. W. Bush and brother of George W. Bush, was implicated in a savings-and-loan scandal, the television coverage was extensive. But he says that Tony’s behavior may be testing the limits of a docile press corps. If so, Wead predicts the coverage will be “like a volcano.”

#related#A slew of new Rodham stories from outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico may herald the end of the Clintons’ immunity on the issue. Bossie says Tony Rodham will be an important element in the presidential campaign for “a very simple reason: Hillary’s never been the nominee before.”

But that doesn’t mean Rodham will lie low come 2016.

“If you’re a guy who has made a living over the last 20 years off of your sister and brother-in-law — if you make hay, this is the time you make hay,” says Bossie. “If she’s the candidate for president and then becomes president, ‘Katie, bar the door.’”

— Brendan Bordelon is a political reporter for National Review.

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