How Trump’s Lies Do Their Work

Lying is an effective political tool because it’s so easy to do and often so hard to debunk. Michelle Ye Hee Lee and the researchers at the Washington Post’s Fact Checker have awarded four Pinocchios to Donald Trump for his recent claim that “Hillary Clinton laundered money to Bill Clinton through Laureate Education” and had the State Department award $55.2 million in grants to Laureate after Laureate hired Bill Clinton for a $16.5 million position as honorary chancellor.

My eyes glazed over while reading the Fact Checker piece, not because they did a bad job or because it was poorly written, but because I just find it hard to care about this stuff. I pressed on out of a sense of professional responsibility, but almost no one else will bother to look into just how ludicrous Trump’s claims were. What they’ll come away with is a vague sense that something smelly must have been afoot.

For me, the only even vaguely unsettling aspect of the entire thing is that a for-profit network of (mostly foreign) universities decided to give Bill Clinton over 16 million dollars between 2010 and 2015 for work that hardly seemed to merit that level of pay.

Clinton’s main responsibility was to speak to students at Laureate campuses around the world, from Turkey to Peru to Malaysia and beyond, about the “importance of their lives as young people in the world today,” his spokesperson said. He also advised Laureate on youth leadership and expanding access to higher education.

Yes, I’d love to get compensated at that level for that quantity of work which involved some interesting travel as a fringe benefit. And I guess that’s a perk of being a former president that we can like or dislike or not much care about either way.

But the heart of the charge here is completely untrue. To start with, the $55.2 million in grants that Laureate allegedly received between 2010 and 2012 was actually “less than $1.5 million in grants and scholarships for four of its schools in other countries between 2009 and 2016.” It might make sense to give the ex-president $16 million to win $55 million in grants, but it doesn’t make sense to give him $16 million to win less than one and a half million in grants. Moreover, almost all of that $1.5 million was awarded after Hillary left the State Department and after Bill was hired for the position. In a period that partially overlapped with her serving as Secretary, “three scholarships worth less than $15,000 total were awarded between 2010 and 2014.”

So, supposedly, Hillary Clinton “laundered” $15,000 to her husband over four years in the form of three tiny scholarships.

That’s how accurate Trump’s charge is when you come right down to it.

There was at least some kernel that this conspiracy theory grew out of, but looking at it doesn’t help vindicate Trump’s outrageous allegations.

So where does the $55.2 million figure come from?

It’s a reference to grants received by another organization: International Youth Foundation (IYF), a nonprofit that promotes education and employment opportunities for youth around the world. Since 1999, IYF has received grants from USAID, the State Department and the Department of Labor to support its various initiatives. IYF received 13 grants from USAID between 2009 and 2013, valued at $52 million. It also received a $30.2 million grant in March 2009 that was negotiated under the George W. Bush administration, according to the IYF president. It competed for and was awarded $1.9 million State Department grant in March 2012 for a workforce development project.

We can already see many ways in which using this figure is wrong. The Secretary of State can’t launder money through the Department of Labor, for example. For another, the International Youth Foundation is a non-profit organization that had a preexisting relationship with Bush’s State Department, and it’s completely distinct from the for-profit Laureate Education.

To get a connection between the IYF and Laureate, the conspiracists need us to take a giant leap.

Critics of the Clintons have conflated IYF and Laureate because of Doug Becker, Laureate’s founder and chief executive. He also is the chairman of IYF’s 14-member volunteer board of directors — but Becker’s role is unpaid, and the two organizations are independent of each other.

So, this is a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, essentially. Mr. Becker, who oversaw the hiring of Bill Clinton as a Laureate ambassador, was not surprisingly on good terms with the former president. As reported by Inside Higher Ed in April, Hillary Clinton wrote an email in 2009 while serving as Secretary asking that a staffer make sure that “Laureate” was represented at a private education-related dinner because it was “the fastest-growing college network in the world,” which was “started by Doug Becker, who Bill likes a lot.”

To untangle this, prior to Bill Clinton being hired by Laureate, he liked the CEO of Laureate. His wife asked that someone from Laureate get an invitation to higher ed policy dinner because the company is a major player internationally. Maybe if you squint, you can see this as cashing in a favor for her husband, but it wasn’t even a dinner invitation for Becker, just someone at his company. And his company was a major player in higher education and there was no reason for them not to be represented at a dinner of this sort.

So, are we are supposed to believe that Becker repaid this dinner invite with a $16 million contract to travel around the world speaking at Laureate venues to international students about “the importance of their lives”?

Actually, we’re not supposed to believe (or understand) anything of the kind. All we’re supposed to know is that a bunch of money changed hands and it’s all somehow corrupt and that the Clinton’s are conniving self-enrichers instead of dedicated public servants.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.