After the summer of the Clinton email server, we’re back to an issue that could be a denser legal/ethical jungle for the Clintons: the speaking fees Bill receives and the good things that coincidentally happened to the companies, nations, or any other entity with significant capital soon afterwards while Hillary was serving as our secretary of state. We’ve seen this both in areas of business and arms deals. Heck, even liberal commentator Chris Matthews acknowledged that when nations fork over money to the Clinton Foundation, or any other related family non-profit, “they want something.”
Now, there is no paper trail, or direct links, connecting the Clintons, the speaking fees, and the good things that follow, but the serial coincidences that occur when money is given to them forms an ethically questionable pattern. Case in point, the 180-degree turn then-Secretary of State Clinton made on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement after some checks from a petroleum company began to flow into the Foundation.
She had previously been against it until ally Frank Giustra, a Canadian financier who founded the oil company Pacific Rubiales, became one of the Foundation’s biggest donors. Rubiales itself also sent millions to the nonprofit, even though this company was accused of labor rights violations. In the end, the trade agreement was ratified, and Giustra now sits on the Clinton Foundation’s Board of Directors.
Now, we have that time the United Arab Emirates gave Bill Clinton money and then-Secretary of State Clinton coincidentally did something in return regarding travel policy. In fact, as Rebecca Ballhaus and James Grimaldi of the Wall Street Journal found out, besides the money given to Bill from the UAE–it turns out millions were given to Bill for speeches from over two-dozen companies and other organizations that also had “matters before Mrs. Clinton’s State Department” (via WSJ):
Mr. Clinton, for example, collected $1 million for two appearances sponsored by the Abu Dhabi government that were arranged while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state. His speeches there came during and after the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security were involved in discussions about a plan to open a U.S. facility in the Abu Dhabi airport to ease visa processing for travel to the U.S. The State Department supported the facility in the face of substantial opposition from unions, members of Congress and others.
The State Department got involved in the Abu Dhabi matter after the capital of the United Arab Emirates asked for a facility to clear travelers for U.S. entry before they boarded planes so they could avoid delays when arriving in the U.S. Only five countries in the world at the time had such an arrangement: Canada, Ireland and three Caribbean countries.
According to two former State Department officials who worked on the matter, the U.S. wanted to help an important ally. Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman said it was “a continuation of a Bush administration initiative to expand preclearance conducted abroad,” and that the Department of Homeland Security led negotiations.
U.S.-based airlines, which have no direct flights between Abu Dhabi and the U.S., opposed the idea as a giveaway to the government-owned airline, Etihad Airways. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and unions for pilots and flight attendants opposed it. More than 150 lawmakers from both parties ultimately opposed it.
While Mrs. Clinton’s State Department and the Department of Homeland Security were working out a “letter of intent” with Abu Dhabi for the facility, Mr. Clinton sought permission to give a paid speech in Abu Dhabi. The invitation came from the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative, a group created by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates and emir of Abu Dhabi, according to Mr. Clinton’s request to the State Department.
On Dec. 6, 2011, U.S. officials signed the letter of intent. One week later, Mr. Clinton gave a 20-minute talk on climate change to the Abu Dhabi government environmental gathering. He collected $500,000, his wife’s disclosure report shows.
In December 2012, Mr. Clinton sought approval for another speech in Abu Dhabi before the World Travel and Tourism Council, State Department emails show. The request said the speech was sponsored by three Abu Dhabi tourism agencies, all owned by the government. A conference sponsor was Etihad Airways, the chief beneficiary of the inspection facility, the group’s promotional materials said. An Etihad spokeswoman referred questions about the facility to the government of Abu Dhabi.
Mr. Clinton gave a keynote address on the value of tourism. He was paid $500,000, his wife’s disclosure filings say.
One week later, the U.S. and Abu Dhabi signed the final agreement for the facility. Etihad Airways operated its first flight from it last year.
Now, remember when Bill Clinton said he’ll keep asking for huge speaking fees, even going so far as to “shakedown” a nonprofit that rebuilds schools impacted by natural disasters, to “pay the bills.” Well he gave a yes and no answer to whether he would continue giving paid speeches on Bloomberg TV in June. He doesn’t want his speeches to be the center of attention if the power couple should reoccupy the White House in January of 2017 (Lord save us), but he did say, “I will still give speeches, though, on the subjects I’m interested in.” The Wall Street Journal added that Bill gave over 200 paid speeches during the time when Hillary was our top diplomat:
Mr. Clinton also had a large payday from Oracle Corp.: a total of $500,000 for two talks given or approved while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state. He gave one in October 2012 as the company was urging the State Department to increase the number of skilled-worker visas being issued, lobbying reports show.
Oracle, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Microsoft Corp., whose co-founder Bill Gates has suggested eliminating the visa cap altogether, paid Mr. Clinton a total of more than $1.1 million for speeches during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure.
Mrs. Clinton has long supported increasing skilled-worker visas, known as H-1B visas, as did her husband when he was president. The issue has remained mired in the broader congressional debate about immigration.
In 2009, the Biotechnology Industry Organization lobbied the State Department to get diplomats to oppose rules against genetically modified foods. In December, Mrs. Clinton sent a cable to diplomats telling them to “pay particular attention” to countries considering biotech regulation and to push an “active biotech agenda” that would “protect the interests of U.S. farmers and exporters,” according to a copy released by WikiLeaks.
Five months later, the biotechnology group paid Mr. Clinton $175,000 to appear at its convention. After Mrs. Clinton left the State Department, she also spoke at the trade group’s convention, earning $335,000.
For those in the Clinton camp who thought the media would just let the email fiasco slide, or scoffed at how long the press was looking into the former first lady’s private email arrangements that broke government regulations, expect more of the same with the speaking fees and donations to the Foundation. There’s possibly more intrigue here, especially after Clinton said she would take “extraordinary steps…to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest” during her secretary of state confirmation hearing.