Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich
By Peter Schweizer
Harper, 256 pages
Wealthy Americans who seek to amass political power have always been able to do so with relative ease, as long as they go about it with skill. Until recently, however, it has not been the case (as it is in many countries) that political power has been a precursor to, or a significant factor in, the accumulation of immense wealth. That is changing. Al Gore was a public servant whose only significant outside earning came from a bestselling book. But in the dozen years following his presidential bid, Gore made in excess of $200 million—in part by selling a cable channel he had helped start to Al Jazeera.
Gore dove into the private sector to make his colossal fortune. Not so his former employer. For the most remarkable tale of enrichment in and after public office has to be that of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have been true pioneers in this brave new world. They began their accumulation of wealth when Bill held political power in the state of Arkansas—with Hillary making bank off the advantages of proximity to the governor. There was the $1,000 investment in cattle futures that netted her a $100,000 return. There was her appointment to the board of Walmart, the biggest business interest in the state (and, eventually, the nation). And there was Whitewater, the complex land deal that was the target of investigations throughout the Clinton presidency in the 1990s.
Now “the Clintons have reversed roles,” writes Peter Schweizer in his important new book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Business Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. “When Hillary entered the Senate, and then the State Department, she became the one who had real power, rather than Bill.”
Schweizer sets out to provide a window into just how the former president and former secretary of state (and perhaps future president) left the White House “dead broke,” as Hillary Clinton claimed in a book-tour interview last year, before earning at least $136.5 million in the decade and a half since then.
“Here is how it worked,” Schweizer explains. “Bill flew around the world making speeches and burnishing his reputation as a global humanitarian and wise man. Very often on these trips he was accompanied by ‘close friends’ or associates who happened to have business interests pending in these countries. Introductions were made, deals struck, and photo-ops arranged before an admiring foreign press. Meanwhile, bureaucratic or legislative obstacles were mysteriously cleared or approvals granted within the purview of his wife, the powerful senator or secretary of state. Huge donations then flowed into the Clinton Foundation while Bill received enormous speaking fees underwritten by the very businessmen who benefited from these apparent interventions.”
Sometimes the money would go directly to Bill Clinton’s personal bank account, other times to the family foundation. Consider the case of TD Bank. The financial institution, the largest bank investing in Bill’s speechmaking and an institution with big investments in the Keystone-XL pipeline, paid the former president nearly $2 million for 10 speeches from 2008 and 2011. “TD Bank had never paid Bill for a speech,” Schweizer reports, “until the pipeline project began snaking its way through Washington.” In 2012, the former president endorsed the pipeline. And his wife, then secretary of state, signaled her own support. (That support may yet change in the 2016 presidential race, since environmentalists are so opposed to it.)
There was also the case involving the telecom company Ericsson, which invested in Bill Clinton’s biggest single payday: $750,000 for a 2011 speech in Hong Kong. A week after the speech, “the State Department unveiled its new sanctions list for Iran. Telecom was not on the list.” Hillary later did suggest that companies such as Ericsson should make “good decisions” about their business partners—but it was only a suggestion and she did not propose “further action.”
There was Hillary Clinton’s push as secretary of state to have Russia buy airplanes from Boeing. As part of her “commercial diplomacy,” Clinton encouraged the sale of dozens of aircrafts at a cost of $3.7 billion. Two months after the American company and the Russians inked the deal, Boeing gave $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation.
Schweizer offers details about a financial windfall after Bill was befriended by those seeking to buy a share of America’s uranium supply and about how the former president helped give prominence and credibility to the strongman in Kazakhstan. The Clintons helped lobby to roll back sanctions on India—sanctions Bill Clinton passed as president—after an Indian politician mysteriously donated 20 to 100 percent of his net worth to the Clinton Foundation. Most discomfiting is the way Clinton cronies profited from the rebuilding of Haiti, one of the world’s poorest nations, after the devastating earthquake in 2010.
The majority of the examples Schweizer provides are of business conducted in countries ruled by despots. This is because, as he explains, “in places like Germany or Great Britain…business and politics are kept separate by stringent ethical rules and procedures, but in despotic areas of the developing world…rules are very different.”
But there is no definitive proof of any quid pro quo at work in this lawyerly book: “We cannot ultimately know what goes on in their minds and ultimately prove the links between the money they took in and the benefits that subsequently accrued to themselves, their friends, and their associates.” Indeed, Schweizer’s disclaimers have provided the Clintons with their ultimate defense from the attacks that have emanated since the book’s publication—that even the author of Clinton Cash cannot prove bribery.
Schweizer even allows that in certain instances, it may very well be pure coincidence: “Of course, it is perfectly possible that in some cases Hillary did nothing at all to ensure these favorable outcomes. Perhaps these foreign interests made large payments to Bill simply in the hope of influencing Hillary. Maybe they were mistaken in thinking that multimillion-dollar payments to Bill and the foundation would have the desired effect. Either way, though, the Clintons ended up with the money.”
There is much talk that Mrs. Clinton would be a pathbreaking president should she win in November 2016. That would surely be true, but it would be as much for her innovations in blurring the lines between political power and personal economic gain as it would be for her gender.