By Evan Halper, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — As Hillary Rodham Clinton seeks to focus public attention on immigration during a swing through Nevada on Tuesday, her presidential campaign staff back at Brooklyn headquarters is scrambling to mitigate damage from release of a long-anticipated book that accuses her of compromised ethics.
Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich became a headache for the Clintons well before sales began Tuesday. It alleges that the Clintons accepted tens of millions of dollars in charitable contributions from foreign donors seeking favors from the Obama administration while Hillary Clinton was secretary of State.
The book’s author, Peter Schweizer, is a conservative journalist with previous work bankrolled by the Koch brothers. His resume also includes advising former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. But in a reflection of the increasing sophistication of opponents of the Clintons — what Hillary Clinton famously called the “vast right-wing conspiracy” two decades ago — Schweizer had negotiated exclusive arrangements with major media outlets to report on his findings leading up to the book’s release.
The result was a steady drip of news stories questioning major donations to the Clinton family foundation. Schweizer acknowledges he has proved no criminal wrongdoing by the Clintons. But that hasn’t slowed the coverage, nor the appetite by Republicans in Congress to investigate. The author, who is calling for a criminal probe into the foundation dealings, says lawmakers on Capitol Hill have asked to be briefed about his findings.
In the weeks leading up to the book’s release, the Clinton foundation acknowledged that it made errors on its tax returns and would likely refile. It also had to explain why it did not disclose the gifts from individual donors at the center of Schweizer’s allegations, saying the money went to a Canadian arm of the charity, established so donors from that country could receive tax benefits. Canadian law, according to the nonprofit Clinton Global Initiative, prohibits disclosing the names of individual donors.
As in the past, the charges of impropriety are being met with righteous indignation by the Clintons, particularly former President Bill Clinton, who had been working to stay out of the spotlight in the early stages of his wife’s campaign. On Monday, though, he stepped right back into it during an interview aired by NBC News, when he defended the six-figure speaking fees he has collected from foreign businesses, saying he’d continue to give paid speeches even as his wife runs for president.
“I have to pay our bills,” he said, stirring up a fresh round of chatter about how in touch the couple is with the way everyday Americans live.
On Tuesday, the Clinton campaign unveiled a new website designed to counter Schweizer’s reporting.
“The book has zero evidence to back up its outlandish claims,” says a note posted on the website from campaign chairman John Podesta. “Even worse than the book’s lack of evidence is its rash of errors.”
The new website, which the campaign calls “The Briefing,” is designed to mobilize supporters “to actively participate in challenging false attacks against Hillary’s record,” Podesta wrote. The note is accompanied by a video in which a campaign official briefs supporters on the book and provides talking points to discredit it. There is also a “Fact Checking Clinton Cash” page.
The news stories that have stemmed from the book are forcing the campaign to engage with Schweizer, when it would likely prefer to just ignore him. Undermining his credibility has been made tougher by pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post written by seasoned investigative reporters who re-reported key findings and found them to be factual.
That includes the deal in which Canadian businessmen who donated heavily to the foundation helped Russia gain control of a large portion of the world’s uranium supply, including deposits in the American West. The deal was approved by several agencies in the U.S. government, including the Department of State while Clinton was secretary. But there is no evidence that Clinton pushed for its approval.
The book appears to be taking a toll on the candidate. Among voters, 42 percent now view her unfavorably, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, up six percentage points from March. Only a quarter of voters give her good ratings for being honest and straightforward.
Photo: Clinton Global Initiative via Facebook