Judicial Watch: New State Department Documents Raise More Questions on Clinton Conflict of Interest Reviews
OCTOBER 07, 2015
Court Asked to Allow Discovery, Impose Legal Hold on All Clinton Email Records
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch today released 789 pages of State Department ethics review documents concerning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, revealing that at least one speech by Bill Clinton appeared to take place without the required State Department ethics approval. The documents also include a copy of Bill Clinton’s draft consultant agreement with Laureate Education, Inc., which was submitted for ethics review by the State Department. But the State Department redacted the information regarding compensation and the specific services Bill Clinton was hired to provide to the controversial “for profit” education company. The documents were released as a result of a federal court order in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against the State Department on May 28, 2013, (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:13-cv-00772)).
The documents include heavily redacted emails from 2009 about the review of a speech Bill Clinton was set to give to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). An April 1, 2009, email from then-State Department Senior Ethics Counsel Waldo W. “Chip” Brooks notes that the ethics review approval of the speech “was in the hands of Jim [Thessin] and Cheryl Mills. They were to discuss with Counsel to the former President. I do not know if either ever did.”
A follow-up September 1, 2009, email to Brooks from a colleague asks, “[W]as there ever a decision on the Clinton request involving scrap recycling? Below is the last e-mail I have on it – I assume it just died since I don’t’ have an outgoing memo approving the event …”
Brooks responds two minutes later:
“I think the decision was a soft call to Clinton’s attorney and the talk did not take place. You might want to send an email to [Clinton Foundation Director of Scheduling and Advance] Terry [Krinvic] and tell her that you have a gap in your records because you were gone and wanted to know if the President ever did talk before ISRI?
In fact, Bill Clinton spoke to the scrap recycling group on April 30, 2009, for a reported fee off $250,000.
The documents also include a request from Doug Band of the Clinton Foundation for an ethics review of Mr. Clinton’s proposed consulting arrangement, through WJC LLC, with Laureate Education, Inc. The Obama State Department redacted key terms of the attached May 1, 2010, draft agreement, including Mr. Clinton’s fees and the nature of Mr. Clinton’s services.
Laureate Education, Inc. is the world’s largest, for-profit, international higher education chain and reportedly uses many of the same practices that spurred a 2014 regulatory crackdown by the Obama administration on for-profit colleges in the United States. In 2010, according to The Washington Post, the company hired former President Clinton to serve as its honorary chancellor, and since that time the former president has made more than a dozen appearances in countries such as Malaysia, Peru, and Spain on the company’s behalf. Since 2010, the former president reportedly has been paid more than $16 million from the company for his services.
The documents also show some push-back by ethics officials concerning proposed Clinton speeches to Chinese government-linked entities. State Department officials, for example, had several questions about a proposed 2009 speech to a subsidiary of the Shanghai Sports Development Corporation, a Chinese “quasi-government” agency. Rather than answer the questions, the Clinton Foundation representative emailed “we are not going to proceed with this.” Brooks commented on the withdrawal of the Chinese speech in December 2009 to then-Deputy Legal Adviser Jim Thessin, “Cooler heads have prevailed.”
The documents show the State Department approved scores of requests by former President Bill Clinton to appear as the featured speaker at events sponsored by some of the world’s leading international investment and banking firms, including J.P. Morgan, Barclays, Merrill Lynch, Sweden’s ABG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Brazil’s Banco Itau, Vista Equity Partners, Goldman Sachs, Vanguard Group (described as “one of the world’s largest investment management companies”), Canada’s Imperial Bank of Commerce, and Saudi Arabia’s SAGIA conglomerate (which claims to be the “gateway to investments in Saudi Arabia”).
While the majority of the documents do not contain the fees that Clinton charged for his speaking services, those that are disclosed reveal that the former president routinely received six-figure honorariums for his advice to the international investment counseling firms and banking institutions, including:
- Barclays Capital Singapore – $325,000
- Needham Partners South Africa – $350,000
- Cumbre de Negocios (sponsored by Nacional Financiera and El Banco Fuerte de Mexico) – $275,000 and $125,000)
- NTRPLC (which describes itself as “developing a new investment portfolio of wind projects in Ireland and the UK”) – $125,000
The documents reveal that between 2009 and 2011, former President Clinton spoke to more than two dozen leading international investment firms and banking institutions, many of them on more than one occasion. At least one of the documents shows that Hillary Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills used a non-governmental email account for the Clinton ethics reviews. Mills reportedly negotiated the “ethics agreement” on behalf of the Clintons and the Foundation that required the Clintons to submit to rigorous conflict-of-interest checks. Despite this, and in apparent violation of Obama administration ethics rules, the documents reveal that Bill Clinton’s requests for speaking engagement approval were invariably copied to Mills, who was involved in ethics reviews as chief of staff for Mrs. Clinton at the State Department.
The documents also include the demands that Bill Clinton’s speakers bureau, The Harry Walker Agency, laid out for a speech sponsor in Slovenia. Notably, the documents require that press be kept in a “designated, roped off area in the back of the room with a staff escort” and that the “press should not be given access to any area where the President likely may be.”
This lawsuit had previously forced the disclosure of documents that provided a road map for over 200 conflict-of-interest rulings that led to at least $48 million for the Clintons and the Clinton Foundation during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State. Previously disclosed documents in this lawsuit, for example, raise questions about funds Clinton accepted from entities linked to Saudi Arabia, China and Iran, among others.
Judicial Watch’s litigation to obtain these conflict of interest records is ongoing. The State Department has yet to search the email records Mrs. Clinton purportedly turned over to the agency last year, despite Judicial Watch’s first requesting these records in 2011 and filing this lawsuit in 2013. The State Department has also yet to explain why it failed to conduct a proper, timely search in the 20 months between when it received Judicial Watch’s request on May 2, 2011, and the February 1, 2013, date Secretary Clinton left office.
Judicial Watch also is pressing the State Department to conduct a reasonable search for records, including any emails on the Hillary Clinton email server. On September 3, Judicial Watch filed a request with the court for discovery from the State Department and/or Mrs. Clinton in order to find these records so they might finally be searched as the law requires. Specifically, Judicial Watch attorneys ask the court to take steps to obtain the records directly:
To the extent Secretary Clinton or her agents or vendors continue to have access to this agency system of records, or any records from the system that have migrated or been transferred to any new servers, storage devices, or back-up systems, Judicial Watch respectfully submits that a constructive trust must be imposed on any such records and systems so that the State Department can access and search them for records…
Accordingly, Judicial Watch asks the court to order the State Department:
To identify, either through declarations or discovery, all information in its possession or control about the transfer of any data from the “clintonemail.com” server to Secretary Clinton’s vendor and whether any such data is still available or otherwise recoverable from the vendor’s server, storage devices, or back-up systems. If the State Department asserts that it does not have this information or cannot obtain it, limited third-party discovery of Secretary Clinton and/or her vendor should be authorized to enable the Court to obtain the information, which is necessary to remedy the State Department’s failure to search the server during Secretary Clinton’s tenure in office, its further failure to secure all federal records on the server when Secretary Clinton left office, and Secretary Clinton’s wrongful retention of these records after she left office.
Judicial Watch’s court filing details how it was “wrongful and in violation of federal law and State Department regulations” to allow Hillary Clinton “to retain exclusive access to this agency system of records (Clinton’s separate email server) and the official State Department communications and records it contains after she left office on February 1, 2013.”
“These records show that the ‘ethics review’ of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s potential conflicts of interest was a joke. There is no doubt that the Clintons abused the Office of Secretary of State for their personal gain,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “This Judicial Watch lawsuit helped force the disclosure of Hillary Clinton’s separate email system. And now we hope that it results in getting all the Clinton emails searched to find out what else Hillary Clinton didn’t want the American people to see in her shady dealings.”
Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit has become particularly noteworthy because it has been reported that the Clinton Foundation, now known as the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, accepted millions of dollars from at least seven foreign governments while Mrs. Clinton served as Secretary of State. The Clinton Foundation has acknowledged that a $500,000 donation it received from the government of Algeria while Mrs. Clinton served as Secretary of State violated a 2008 ethics agreement between the foundation and the Obama administration. Some of the foreign governments that have made donations to the Clinton Foundation include Algeria, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, have questionable human rights records.