The Clinton Foundation is hardly a large or unique source of corruption in American politics. It is, however, a source of grubby, low-level access headaches. That is the takeaway from the latest batch of State Department emails. The emails do not show that Clinton Foundation donors received any policy favors from Hillary Clinton or other elected officials. What they show is that people who donated to the foundation believed they were owed favors by Clinton’s staffers, and at least one of those staffers — the odious Doug Band — shared this belief. Band, for instance, called the crown prince of Bahrain, who donated millions to the foundation, a “good friend of ours.”
That “ours” is the problematic assumption at the heart of the foundation — it implies an “us” that encompasses both Clinton’s philanthropic worth and her public role. As always, the Clintons are simultaneously the victims and the beneficiaries of a lunatic opposition that blows up their failings into an imaginary conspiracy, in this case manifested by Republicans chanting “lock her up” for misdeeds that are not remotely criminal. As Ben Wallace-Wells recently observed, the internal culture revealed by the Clinton emails is mostly one of earnest bureaucratic befuddlement, not corruption. The favors amounted to requests for meetings that may or may not have been granted. The foundation’s donors were a class of prospective sugar daddies to be fended off.
At the same time, criminality is not the correct standard to which a public official ought to be held. From the standpoint of both good government and Hillary Clinton’s political image, the correct course of action is to transfer the Clinton Foundation’s work to some other charitable entity with no connection to the prospective First Couple.