Another Clinton Foundation Investigation Shows They Played It By the Book

We can now add to the Associated Press investigation of Hillary Clinton’s schedule while she was Secretary of State, and the multiple investigations into the emails uncovered by Judicial Watch, an investigation by Politico into the way President Bill Clinton used funds under the Former Presidents Act.

In order to understand this last one, you need to know some basics about that legislation.

It was passed in 1958 to “maintain the dignity” of the presidency by helping former commanders in chief avoid hard times like those that befell Harry S. Truman.

Funds are made available to former presidents for the following purposes:

  1. Pension
  2. Staff and office
  3. Medical insurance
  4. Security and travel

Politico starts off their report with a bold statement about Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton continued drawing more cash from the Former President’s Act than any other ex-president, according to a POLITICO analysis. The analysis also found that Clintons’ representatives, between 2001, when the Clintons left the White House, and the end of this year, had requested allocations under the Act totaling $16 million. That’s more than any of the other living former presidents — Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush — requested during that span.

What they didn’t report was how the other living presidents compared to Bill Clinton. I’d be interesting in knowing what Jimmy Carter’s tally was over the time period. But we know that George H.W. Bush’s health has slowed him down lately and that George W. Bush has been content to retire to his home in Texas and paint.

We also don’t know how that $16 million is broken down among those four categories above for Bill Clinton over the last 15 years. Another Politico article says that half of that figure ($8 million) was for pension funds. It is not until late in this current article that we learn that staff and office expenses (where this investigation focused) is limited by law to $96,600 per year. Politico’s main contention is that some of that money went to pay people who also worked for the Clinton Foundation.

You have to read between the lines to understand that what they found doesn’t support anything nefarious or even out of the ordinary. First of all, there’s this quote from Politico:

This investigation, which is based on records obtained from the General Services Administration through the Freedom of Information Act, does not reveal anything illegal. But it does offer fresh evidence of how the Clintons blurred the line between their nonprofit foundation, Hillary Clinton’s State Department, and the business dealings of Bill Clinton and the couple’s aides.

Does that sound familiar? We have nothing illegal but we do have what Matt Yglesias called the “assumption of corruption.”

As I said, the accusations mostly focus on the fact that some of Bill Clinton’s staff worked both for him in his role are former president and for the Clinton Foundation. Based on Politico’s reporting about that, Kevin Drum writes this:

So Clinton gets the princely sum of $96,600 each year for staff, and tracks the work these staffers do in his capacity as ex-president. He bills the GSA for that work, and bills other organizations when the staff does work for them. This is bog standard stuff. Staff time is tracked, and then charged out. This is not just “not illegal,” it’s the way pretty much any similar kind of operation works. Even me. Mother Jones pays me an annual salary, but if I write an op-ed or something, I bill that time to whoever I wrote the op-ed for.

At the very end of this long article Politico undermines all of the dark insinuations they’ve been making. They point to an invoice submitted to the General Services Administration (the government office that has to approve all of these expenses) to purchase a server and IT equipment for a database that would be housed at the Clinton Foundation office.

Clinton Foundation officials explained to the GSA that they wanted the Dell server housed at foundation headquarters rather than at Clinton’s personal office. They explained in an email that the foundation office had better air conditioning, allowing it to support “about 10-15 more servers,” and also it was where IT staff were based, so “trouble shooting with the servers can be done ASAP.”

The GSA staff asked Graham, then serving as the foundation’s COO, to demonstrate that “safeguards are in place to ensure that the servers are solely for use by” Clinton’s personal office. A note affixed to the bottom of an email produced pursuant to POLITICO’s FOIA indicates that the GSA ultimately decided not to purchase the Dell server.

Asked about the reasoning this week, a GSA spokesman suggested that Clinton’s representatives failed to provide sufficient evidence that the Dell server was not for use by the foundation.

What we have here is a perfect example of how oversight was provided with the disbursement of these funds and, when there was any suspicion of overlap, they were denied.

Just as with previous investigations, when mounds of evidence are reviewed, we find nothing illegal or even nefarious. What we actually find is that the Clintons played it by the book. How many more of these do we have to see before we drop that “assumption of guilt?”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.