Magazine | August 1, 2016, Issue

American Grifters

The shameless corruption of Bill and Hillary.

‘There is no doubt this case is distasteful. It may be worse than that.”

So wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in a unanimous Supreme Court decision last month that vacated the conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who had received various lavish gifts from supporters, on corruption charges. But, Roberts went on, “setting up a meeting, hosting an event, or calling an official (or agreeing to do so)” does not constitute the sort of quid pro quo that would constitute official corruption.

Somewhere, Bill and Hillary Clinton breathed sighs of relief. For exactly this sort of access-trading and “soft corruption” has been the hallmark of their careers — and can be counted on to continue unabated in a Hillary Clinton administration.

As political figures, the Clintons are insignificant. They can win elections, but not lead movements — witness the sad spectacle of Hillary running on many issues that are direct repudiations of Bill’s positions. But as grifters, they are truly world-class. In comparison with the Clintons, Donald Trump is a mere piker in the corruption game. The media obsess about Trump’s vulgarity and obviousness while turning a blind eye to the subtler but far more disturbing corruption of the Clintons.

For example, by now almost everyone has heard of Trump “University,” a tacky real-estate-education marketing scam that epitomizes all of the things that conservatives (and others) love to loathe about Donald Trump.

But how many have heard about Laureate University, not technically a scam if we’re being Clintonite hair-splitting lawyers, but, in reality, a much more unseemly effort that paid Bill Clinton a staggering $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014 to serve as “honorary chancellor” of its “global” for-profit universities, an amount that both Laureate and the Clintons took pains to hide. And for good reason, given that Hillary Clinton directly requested Laureate’s inclusion in an important State Department policy event shortly before Bill signed his contract. As best as can be determined, Bill Clinton was essentially used as a paid pitchman for the company and went around to its various campuses making bland speeches about education.

Of course, this story wouldn’t be complete without noting that Laureate University’s chairman was also chairman of something called the “International Youth Foundation,” which received $55 million in grants from the State Department while Clinton was secretary of state. And that, according to liberal law professor Jonathan Turley, “Laureate Education was sued over its Walden University Online offering, which some alleged worked like a scam designed to bilk students of tens of thousands of dollars for degrees. Students alleged that they were repeatedly delayed and given added costs as they tried to secure degrees, leaving them deeply in debt.” The U.S. Department of Education listed five of the six Laureate campuses as raising concerns over poor finances and regulatory compliance. But as long as the money was flowing to the Clintons, they were glad to turn a blind eye. And the media were glad to acquiesce.

But Laureate is hardly alone on the Clinton wall of shame. The Clintons, who are always quick to play 1 percent–vs.–99 percent politics, personally took in almost $140 million in income over the past eight years, during which time Hillary Clinton was either secretary of state or the shadow Democratic-party nominee for 2016 or both. Those numbers got even larger once Hillary exited the State Department and got on the gravy train full-time. In 2014 the Clintons “earned” $28 million in income. Both Bill and Hillary have limited-liability corporations (ZFS Holdings and WJC LLC) that receive their speaking and consulting fees. The existence of both was not disclosed until 2015. Even the 10 percent of that money that the Clintons have given to charity in recent years was almost exclusively given to the Clinton Family Foundation, where it can burnish the Clinton brand.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the decisions of lower courts in Bluman v. FEC that foreign nationals were banned from contributing to U.S. political candidates or parties. Yet, according to the Washington Post, over half of the largest donors to the Clinton Foundation are foreign sources. In just the past eight years, the Clintons received tens of millions of dollars of money from foreign sources, with very little scrutiny.

Everyone knew that Hillary was running in 2008. And once she lost, everyone knew she was running again in 2016. Yet, as documented in many places (most extensively in Peter Schweizer’s devastating 2015 book Clinton Cash), numerous foreign entities, many of them obviously sordid or at least highly questionable, have, since Bill Clinton left office, effectively bought the Clintons through various tawdry payment schemes in preparation for Hillary’s run.

For the most part, the biggest givers to the Clinton Foundation haven’t been recognizable brand names looking to attach the Clinton name to their charitable efforts. McDonald’s Corp. sponsors Ronald McDonald Houses in part because it is a worthy endeavor, but in larger part because of the halo effect McDonald’s gets by associating itself with a good cause. But the biggest Clinton Foundation donors aren’t the McDonald’s of the world. Instead, the Clinton Foundation took some of its biggest gifts, often with little public disclosure, from shady foreign mining magnates and corrupt businessmen (or even governments), who donated in order to benefit from the access the Clintons gave directly and to gain valuable chits once the Clintons were back in office. Russian uranium barons, Ukrainian steel magnates, and mining companies doing business in the Congo don’t just decide to give tens of millions out of the goodness of their hearts. Yet they paid up to the Clintons.

Take Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining magnate who has made deals in some of the world’s most unpleasant corners. He’s given more than $25 million to the Clinton Foundation. “All of my chips, almost, are on Bill Clinton. He’s a brand, a worldwide brand, and he can do things and ask for things that no one else can,” Giustra said in an interview. No wonder that Bill Clinton took the time to introduce Giustra to a number of powerful world leaders in shady areas where he does business. Or consider Lukas Lundin, a Swedish mining, oil, and gas baron who was one of the few Westerners doing oil business in corrupt and dangerous locales such as Iran and Sudan. When he wasn’t buying off Congolese warlords, Lundin found the time to give $100 million to the Clinton Foundation — again, with almost no serious media coverage.

Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire who is the world’s fifth-richest man (and the largest shareholder in the New York Times), is another big foundation donor. Some might see that as a conflict of interest; for the Clintons, it’s just how to do business.

As the liberal New York Review of Books wrote earlier this year:

Former US presidents have long used charitable foundations as a way to perpetuate their influence and to attract speaking fees as a lucrative source of income. But the Clintons are unique in being able to rely on the worldwide drawing power of former president Bill Clinton to help finance the political career of Hillary Clinton — with the expectation among donors that as a senator, secretary of state, and possible future president Hillary Clinton might be well placed to return their favors.

No wonder that, as Schweizer noted, “no one has even come close in recent years to enriching themselves on the scale of the Clintons while they or a spouse continued to serve in public office.”

And they’ve worked hard to protect their prerogatives. After Clinton became secretary of state, foreign entities could continue funding the Clinton Global Initiative (thus currying favor with Hillary by buying access to Bill) if they disclosed their donations and obtained approval from the Obama administration and the State Department. The foundation even took $500,000 from the government of Algeria in 2010, in direct contradiction of the foundation’s agreement with President Obama.

There is regular mixing of staff between Clinton’s foundation and her campaign. One of the campaign’s chief fund-raisers was, until recently, the foundation’s director of development. Hillary’s right-hand woman, Huma Abedin, arranged to work simultaneously with the State Department, the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton’s personal office, and a Clinton-linked consultancy. Meanwhile, leading Clinton Foundation donor and securities trader Raj Fernando was put on the International Security Advisory Board in the State Department at the direct request of the secretary, despite lacking any qualifications for it. Once the media started inquiring, he resigned quietly.

Little wonder that the Better Business Bureau said the foundation did not meet transparency and accountability standards and the watchdog website Charity Navigator refused to rate it, including it as one of 23 charities on its “watch list” along with such luminaries as Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. While the foundation likes to tout its grassroots givers, approximately three-quarters of its money comes from contributors who gave $1 million or more. “It seems like the Clinton Foundation operates as a slush fund for the Clintons,” commented a senior fellow at the liberal Sunlight Foundation. A writer from Harper’s was even more blunt, saying that “the Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.”

But as the Laureate University scandal showed, the Clintons don’t just enrich their foundation and friends with their corrupt fundraising; they line their own pockets as well. As Bernie Sanders regularly noted on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton took more than $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year while requiring in her contract that she would not be recorded and her remarks would not be released.

Even Chelsea has gotten in (indirectly) on the Clinton corruption. Her father-in-law, Clinton family friend and former congressman Ed Mezvinsky, is a convicted felon who served several years in federal prison for various Nigerian-based scams. According to Politico, Mezvinsky “use[d] his friendship with the Clintons to give him credibility to convince his victims to invest their money with him.” Mezvinsky still owes millions of dollars to the clients he defrauded, but, as far as can be learned from the public record, none of the Clintons have attempted to use their own millions to reimburse those Mezvinsky scammed. Meanwhile Chelsea and her husband Marc Mezvinsky live in a $10.5 million luxury dwelling in New York City.

The Clintons’ corruption has been evident from their earliest days. Hillary infamously made a $100,000 profit off a $1,000 investment in cattle futures in the late 1970s (while Bill Clinton was governor), guided by Jim Blair, a lawyer for Tyson Foods, the largest agribusiness company in Arkansas. When she was questioned about her financial shenanigans, which also included the infamous Whitewater land deal, shortly after her husband became president, Hillary, true to form, played the gender card from the bottom of the deck, blaming those uncomfortable with her influence on President Clinton for the problems. At a White House press conference she said, somewhat incoherently: “I think that, having been independent, having made decisions, it’s a little difficult for us as a country, maybe, to make the transition of having a woman like many of the women in this room, sitting in this house.”

The same shamelessness could be seen at the start of Hillary’s electoral career. Bill Clinton’s last-day-in-office pardon of fugitive financial criminal Marc Rich, whose ex-wife had made more than $1 million in donations to Hillary’s Senate campaign and the Democratic party, prompted the Washington Post to comment that the Clintons had “no capacity for embarrassment.”

That Trump, a vulgar, showy businessman who probably has gold-plated toilets, has been involved in shady dealings and questionable product endorsements surprises no one. But Trump has not spent his life preparing to run for president. That the Clintons, who have spent their entire lives grasping for the brass ring, would engage in such obviously corrupt behavior tells you as much about their brazenness as it does about their ethics.

Ultimately, the Clintons are much more dangerous than Trump because their corruption is much more calculating. Trump, at least, has been quite forthright about buying favors from politicians in the past. The Clintons, however, still deny that they are bought and paid for, even though some of the world’s shadiest characters have millions of dollars of receipts. There is nothing respectable about the thoroughly corrupt Clintons — and there never has been.

– Mr. Carl is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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