Opinion

How do you solve a problem like Bill Clinton?

A new report in the Times shows the problems the former president poses for his wife's campaign

We knew another Clinton scandal was coming.

Earlier this week, it was reported that The New York Times and other news organizations had teamed up with Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash, a forthcoming book investigating the Clintons' ties to foreign governments and businesses. On Thursday, we saw the first fruit of that collaboration: a big investigative report by the Times showing that from 2009 to 2013, Hillary Clinton's State Department approved a series of acquisitions that handed Russia's atomic energy agency control over "one-fifth of all uranium production in the United States."

The problem? The Canadian magnates behind the deal had donated tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, while a Russian investment bank with an interest in the deal paid Bill Clinton a cool $500,000 for a single speech in Moscow.

Furthermore, the Clinton Foundation failed to publicly disclose a $2.35 million donation from the head of Uranium One, the company that controlled the uranium assets and was purchased by the Russian agency Rosatom. That was in violation of a disclosure agreement the Clinton Foundation had made with President Barack Obama to secure his nomination of Hillary Clinton to lead the State Department.

The Times report stops short of explicitly connecting Hillary Clinton to the deal. There's no smoking gun showing that she directed her State Department to approve the deal in exchange for the donations to the Clinton Foundation and the fat paycheck for Bill. Indeed, the deal had to be approved by a bunch of departments, including Treasury, Defense, and Homeland Security, which suggests the consensus opinion of the Obama administration was that it did not pose a threat to national security. Hillary Clinton may not have even signed off on it personally, leaving it to subordinates to approve.

So the glee with which this news has been met in the conservative press is probably unwarranted, particularly since Republican presidential candidates are openly selling their influence to oligarchs of the American variety. It is also very hard to believe that Hillary Clinton, who is known to be a rather ambitious woman, would be so dumb as to forfeit her chance at the presidency to pad her husband's pockets.

Still, this is hardly the first time that the Clintons have been accused of a conflict of interest. My colleague Peter Weber has rightly pointed out that all the money that flows into the Clinton Foundation goes to good causes — earthquake relief, economic development, women's health — even if it comes from unsavory sources. But as citizens of the post-Citizens United world, we all know that even the appearance of corruption can undermine faith in the political system, and for all appearances the Clintons are swimming in dirty money.

The Clintons could have done a much better job keeping their hands clean. As Jonathan Chait has written, "[T]he best-case scenario is bad enough: The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy." And I would add, per the Times report, that it is just flat crazy for Bill Clinton to be helping uranium magnates secure business deals by buttering up Kazakh dictators.

Which brings us to the crux of the problem. While Republicans would clearly like to make this scandal about the political entity known as the Clintons, the real trouble here is Bill. Yes, Hillary Clinton accepts large speaking fees — but who in the political universe doesn't? Yes, the Clinton Foundation has been retooled as a vehicle for the entire Clinton family, including Chelsea — but for all the good it has done, the foundation doubled as a platform for Bill to retain influence and power while his wife served in the Senate, then ran for president, then ran the State Department for four years. It is through Bill that these foreign governments and businesses, however ineffectually, have been trying to shape U.S. policy and win favors.

Hillary Clinton has already resigned from the Clinton Foundation's board, and were she to become president, she would obviously cut all ties to the foundation. But will her husband? Will foreign governments and businessmen continue to be able to send enormous checks to the president's husband's foundation? Do the Clintons really think they can run the country and a massive philanthropic organization at the same time, with all the conflicts of interest that arrangement implies? 

These are questions that are sure to dog her campaign. While the Clinton Foundation has introduced new limits on foreign government donations, in significant ways it appears Bill plans to keep doing business as usual through the campaign and beyond. And anyway, after all that we know now, can anyone trust that these limits will be enforced? Wouldn't it be better for Hillary Clinton's campaign if the Clintons, as a whole, cut their ties to the foundation?

And if so, shouldn't they start making these changes now?

More From...

Picture of Ryu SpaethRyu Spaeth
In search of Karl Ove Knausgaard
Knausgaard
Feature

In search of Karl Ove Knausgaard

National Review analysis: Jeb Bush 'has almost no chance of being the GOP nominee'
Jeb Bush
2016

National Review analysis: Jeb Bush 'has almost no chance of being the GOP nominee'

Watch Hillary Clinton hit Bernie Sanders hard on gun control
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton
Democratic debate

Watch Hillary Clinton hit Bernie Sanders hard on gun control

Ben Carson quadruples down on his bizarre Nazi gun control argument
Ben Carson
2016 election

Ben Carson quadruples down on his bizarre Nazi gun control argument

Recommended

Trump celebrates Pennsylvania ruling against mail-in voting
Pennsylvania ballot drop box.
the fight goes on

Trump celebrates Pennsylvania ruling against mail-in voting

Jim Justice: Kiss Babydog's 'hiney'
Jim Justice and Babydog.
do it for babydog

Jim Justice: Kiss Babydog's 'hiney'

Bidens introduce their new White House cat
Joe Biden and Jill Biden
meow

Bidens introduce their new White House cat

A liberal-populist conservative alliance on Ukraine?
Vladimir Putin and Tucker Carlson.
Picture of W. James Antle IIIW. James Antle III

A liberal-populist conservative alliance on Ukraine?

Most Popular

Florida's DeSantis upset FDA canceled 2 antibody cocktails ineffective against Omicron
Regeneron infusion center in Florida
Monoclonal Fixation

Florida's DeSantis upset FDA canceled 2 antibody cocktails ineffective against Omicron

Could the threat of Ukrainian resistance deter Russia?
Vladimir Putin.
Opinion

Could the threat of Ukrainian resistance deter Russia?

Barry Bonds doesn't need the Hall of Fame
Barry Bonds.
Samuel Goldman

Barry Bonds doesn't need the Hall of Fame