WASHINGTON — A handful of the emails and documents hacked from the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, detail the at-times uncomfortable overlap between the family charity and the public and private sector careers of the Clintons, dating back long before Clinton’s formal campaign for president began.
The anxiety — centered around the nexus of Clinton Foundation fundraising, paid speeches and requests for access to former President Bill Clinton dubbed “Bill Clinton Inc.” by a top aide — dates back to late 2011, when Chelsea Clinton began to take on a greater role in the family foundation and spearheaded an effort to clean house.
None of the documents released, however, showed a clear indication that any of the paid speeches or access to Bill Clinton directly resulted in influence at Hillary Clinton’s State Department.
Expressing concern about the relationship to foreign donors and her parents’ work and any appearance of conflicts of interest as Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, Chelsea Clinton pushed to hire law firms to audit the foundation’s operation.
The review found problems with management, budgeting and potential conflicts of interest, recommending more oversight and a more independent board. The Foundation adopted many of the recommendations.
Podesta’s hacked email contained foundation details from the time because he was working as a special adviser while the foundation’s chairman recuperated from an illness.
One newly released document was a memo prepared by Doug Band, Bill Clinton’s former top aide, for the attorneys who were conducting the audit. In the memo, Band details his own consulting company, Teneo, and its relationship to the foundation’s top donors as well as how those top donors also enriched Bill Clinton through what Band called “Bill Clinton, Inc.”
Band detailed how he set up for-profit deals for the former President, both involving money and “as appropriate, in-kind services for the President and his family — for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like.”
Band’s memo covers 2001 to 2011, during which time “President Clinton’s business arrangements have yielded more than $30 million for him personally with $66 million to be paid out over the next nine years, should he choose to continue with the current engagements.”
He sent the memo to Podesta in mid-November 2011 for feedback.
Questions about the foundation have plagued Clinton’s campaign throughout the primary and general election. The Clintons have vehemently denied any conflicts of enrichment or improper dealings, emphasizing the charity’s high esteem in the world and by watchdogs for the work it does. Over the summer, the foundation began announcing steps it would take if Clinton were elected to minimize potential for conflicts of interest, including banning foreign donations.
The complex nature of the Clintons’ personal and professional relationship with the foundation has continued to invite politically motivated criticism, though investigations by Congress and independent groups of Clinton’s archives at the State Department and the WikiLeaks emails have failed to turn up any single smoking guns.
Republicans and Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump, have seized on the document after long accusing the Clintons of using the foundation to enrich themselves and abuse the power of the State Department, pointing to the overlap between Clintons’ private paid speeches and appointments and foundation donors.
“Mr. Band called the arrangement unorthodox. The rest of us call it outright corrupt,” Trump said at a rally Thursday. “In fact, the Clinton Foundation even hired a law firm to find out if their pay to play scheme would jeopardize their charitable status with the IRS.”
“This memo is the smoking gun for how the Clintons used their foundation to create a massive for-profit paid speaking and consulting business to enrich themselves,” GOP Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement Thursday. “All of their talk about charitable work masks the fact they were eager to get their own cut of the action. That the Clintons raked in millions of dollars while these same donors had business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department points to a rampant pay-to-play culture that would be on full display should Hillary Clinton be elected president.”
In the email, Band wrote of his own role: “Since President Clinton left office, I have sought to leverage my activities, including my partner role at Teneo, to support and to raise funds for the Foundation.”
WikiLeaks has been releasing the Podesta emails in tranches daily for more than two weeks. The campaign has refused to confirm or deny the authenticity of individual emails, but has accused the Russian government of being behind the hacking to meddle in the US election. WikiLeaks and Moscow have denied the charge.
Band and the campaign have declined to comment on the documents. But Glen Caplin, a spokesman for Clinton’s campaign, offered a defense of her leadership at the State Department Thursday.
“The State Department has made clear that Hillary Clinton’s actions were made in the best interests of American foreign policy and that she never made decisions because of donations to the Clinton Foundation,” Caplin said in a statement. “The Clinton Foundation discloses its donors online and all of Hillary and Bill Clinton’s income has been disclosed publicly in nearly 40 years of tax returns and her personal financial disclosure forms, so none of the relationships being reported today are new.”
Teneo, meanwhile, said in a statement that the company “never received any financial benefit or benefit of any kind” from its relationship with the Clinton Foundation.
Campaign manager Robby Mook began to get his arms around the foundation as early as October 2014, emailing Mills to ask how closely Clinton would be tied to it going forward.
“One question,” for the foundation, he said, “is whether it will still have and/or use her name next year. Do you know what their plan is for that? It only matters for research and press purposes — i.e. it will invite press scrutiny and she’ll be held accountable for what happens there. … It’s a discussion that should be had at some point in my view.”
Mills only replied, “Like this.”
In another email chain about the foundation, Hillary Clinton’s close adviser, Huma Abedin, emailed with Mook about a Clinton Foundation conference in Morocco in 2015 that Clinton herself was supposed to appear at. Clinton ultimately did not go, and the email conversation was about her backing out at the last minute.
Abedin wrote Mook that the Moroccans agreed to host a Clinton Global Initiative Africa conference entirely predicated on the idea that Clinton herself would appear.
“The condition upon which the Moroccans agreed to host the meeting was her participation,” Abedin wrote. “If hrc was not part if it, meeting was a non-starter. CGI also wasn’t pushing for a meeting in Morocco and it wasn’t their first choice.”
Abedin said it was Hillary Clinton’s idea to approach the Moroccans and make the request, which came with a substantial donation.
“Our office approached the Moroccans and they 100 percent believe they are doing this at her request,” Abedin wrote. “The King has personally committed approx $12 million both for the endowment and to support the meeting. It will break a lot of china to back out now when we had so many opportunities to do it in the past few months. She created this mess and she knows it.”
The issue had also been discussed by Abedin and other aides months earlier — in November 2014 — in regards to potential scheduling issues for 2015. The later emails were from January, preceding the May 2015 conference, which Clinton ultimately did not attend.
Mills wrote the team in April 2015 that she had discussed with Clinton what could be done about the foundation were Clinton to run for president.
“I connected with HRC this am regarding the steps she will take with regard to the Foundation should she announce a decision to explore a run for the Presidency,” Mills said, offering to schedule a call for more.
Podesta at one point expressed frustration with pre-campaign decision-making to confidante Neera Tanden, a Clinton supporter and president of the progressive think tank Center for American Progress.
In an email from September 2015, Podesta obliquely referenced previous “terrible decisions,” though it was unclear what specifically he was referring to amid another storm of criticism over Clinton’s private server use as secretary of state.
“We’ve taken on a lot of water that won’t be easy to pump out of the boat,” Podesta wrote. “Most of that has to do with terrible decisions made pre-campaign, but a lot has to do with her instincts.”
Though it’s unclear whether Podesta replied to the emailed memo from Band due to WikiLeaks’ haphazard release strategy, it is not the first time he or the foundation has popped up as a source of frustration for Hillary Clinton’s team.
In an email released in one of the first batches from WikiLeaks, Band emailed Podesta and top Hillary Clinton aide Cheryl Mills complaining about Chelsea, calling her a “spoiled brat.”
“I don’t deserve this from her and deserve a tad more respect or at least a direct dialogue for me to explain these things,” Band wrote. “She is acting like a spoiled brat kid who has nothing else to do but create issues to justify what she’s doing because she, as she has said, hasn’t found her way and has a lack of focus in her life.”
That chain of emails appears to be a precursor to the draft of Band’s memo that was released by WikiLeaks on Wednesday. Taking place a few days before Band sent the updated memo to Podesta, the complaints from Band about Chelsea came in a thread with Mills and Podesta offering suggestions to Band on how to shape a memo of the same subject.
Band was apparently frustrated with Chelsea’s direction of the audit of the organization and its web. In 2012, the law firm the memo was crafted for presented its findings to the foundation, which restructured.
Less than two weeks before Band’s exchange with Podesta and Mills, Chelsea Clinton had emailed Podesta, Mills and the attorneys an update on her work to “professionalize” the organization, saying she was to meet with Band soon.
She said she’d been receiving “concerns” from people about the “Foundation and/or my father’s world” and was encouraging those people to talk to attorneys “candidly.”
Chelsea said it she also relayed that it was “critical that as we move to professionalize the Foundation for the future that professionalism starts with this process – people continue to share things with me.”
“I continue to want — and to try — to disintermediate myself from this muddle, edify the corporate audit and existential process we are in – while also being a responsible board member, daughter and person,” she wrote.
She added that one of the shared concerns from an anonymous source was that her “father was told today of explicit examples at CGI of Doug/ Teneo pushing for — and receiving — free memberships — and of multiple examples of Teneo ‘hustling’ business at CGI — and of people now having quit at CGI.”
The tension between Band and Clinton continued for months, with Band forwarding a friendly email from Chelsea to Podesta and Mills in January.
“She sends me one of these types of emails every few days/week,” Band wrote. “As they say, the apple doesn’t fall far(.) A kiss on the cheek while she is sticking a knife in the back, and front.”
Beyond WikiLeaks and the campaign
Emails previously released through a 2015 Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal watchdog group, highlighted how Band communicated frequently with Clinton’s closest aides at the State Department, communications that included requests to set up meetings between State Department officials and prominent Clinton foundation donors.
“Impossible to get fred eychner a seat at the state dinner?” Band Wrote to Abedin and Capricia Marshall in January 2011, referring to businessman and philanthropist Fred Eychaner, who had given millions to the foundation. That message was from the latest batch of emails released by the conservative watchdog group Thursday.
In a 2009 email from an earlier release in August, Band directed Abedin and Mills to put Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire and Clinton Foundation donor, in contact with the State Department’s “substance person” on Lebanon.
“We need Gilbert Chagoury to speak to the substance person re Lebanon,” Band wrote. “As you know, he’s a key guy there and to us and is loved in Lebanon. Very imp.”
“It’s jeff feltman,” Abedin responded, referring to Jeffrey Feltman, who was the US ambassador to Lebanon at the time. “I’m sure he knows him. I’ll talk to jeff.”
While it’s not always clear what happens with Band’s requests, many appeared to be deflected. Feltman told CNN in August that no one spoked to him about Chagoury and that he never met with him.
Band’s emails also included requests to help find government jobs for associates.
Band lobbied Clinton aides for a job for someone else in the State Department. In the email, Band told Mills and Abedin that it is “important to take care of (redacted).” Band is reassured by Abedin that “Personnel has been sending him options.”
In another email from Thursday’s release dated November 2010, Band sent a note to Abedin saying, “for the woman I mentioned for her to get an appointment to the embassy Here is the info As soon as possible pls.”
When asked about specific incidents, the State Department has maintained it found no evidence of preferential treatment and/or policy decisions being influenced by foundation donations during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.
CNN’s Ryan Browne, Jeremy Diamond, David Fitzpatrick and Laura Koran contributed to this report.