Two critical issues have arisen – or, more accurately, re-arisen – in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. They are the influence that the Clinton Foundation has played in her affairs and the revelation of nearly 15,000 new emails not turned over to the FBI. A third issue is what the second may reveal about the first.
Allegations from Clinton’s political opponents are already swirling that the new emails document a pay-to-play culture within the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state. Neutral observers are more cautious. The emails, some say, clearly show that while the donors to the foundation could gain access to Clinton, too little about them has been revealed to show if they also won any favors as a result. Others say they don’t even document access.
Those are key matters that voters will need to monitor as they evaluate the significance of the new emails, which the FBI found by further searching her email server and the computers of people with whom she corresponded. FBI Director James Comey said some of the emails are purely personal and that there is no evidence they were purposely deleted with the intention of concealing them.
Nevertheless, none of this is what a candidate for president wants. Yet both are predictable outcomes of the circumstances the Clintons created. The mere existence of the Clinton Foundation, regardless of any good it may do, was bound to create questions regarding conflicts and access.
Given that Clinton knew she would mount another campaign for president, and knew that organized posses were watching her every move, extra precautions should have been put in place to create a firewall. Only trouble could come, otherwise. It has.
What is more, even if no favors were granted as a result of donations to the foundation – and the campaign insists that is the case – the matter poses the same ethical questions that large campaign donations do. Politicians insist such gifts provide no more than access, not inappropriate effort on behalf of the donor. Sometimes, no doubt, that is true. Other times, money given has clearly purchased actions aimed at helping the donor. It’s why limits on campaign donations are necessary.
Similarly, and as we have previously observed, Clinton’s decision to use a private email server for official business was foolish on its face. It put classified information at risk of exposure. It also created political opportunities for her adversaries. At a minimum, it documents a level of unnecessary risk-taking no one should want in a president.
More than a little late, but welcome nonetheless, the foundation said it would no longer accept foreign donations if Clinton is elected in November, and Bill Clinton announced that, if she wins, he will step down from the foundation’s board of directors.
Still, it is clear that the foundation will be an enduring source of suspicion and excavation. If the Clintons are wise, they will take steps now to create even more verifiable distance between them and the foundation.
Similarly, the email fiasco that never should have happened will now continue dogging her until well past Election Day. The Clinton campaign flatly insisted that no inappropriate actions were taken on behalf of donors – in fact, some of the emails document frustration at the lack of action – but the anti-Clinton machine is practically its own industry. It will continue to hound her.
It may have done so, regardless, but she has handed her opponents a weapon. The question is whether it is firing blanks or live ammunition.