Right now, virtually any foreign or domestic individual can purchase personal access to the president of the United States by making a $200,000 annual payment to his golf resort in Palm Beach, Florida. And that access can produce changes in the president’s policy views: As one former White House official recently told the Washington Post, “At Mar-a-Lago, anyone who can get within eyesight changes the game.”
Several years ago, the Clinton family’s charitable foundation accepted donations from individuals and entities that had an interest in influencing U.S. policy, while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary of State. The donations did not pile up in the Clintons’ bank accounts, but rather, were spent on reducing rates of HIV, malaria, and childhood malnutrition, among other philanthropic causes. While the arrangement raised legitimate concerns about the appearance of — and potential for — corruption, years of scrutiny have produced no significant public evidence of Clinton’s reshaping public policy to her foundation donors’ whims. The most high-profile allegation of such behavior — the Uranium One “scandal” — is laughably hollow, and has long been debunked.
Now: If you were a federal law enforcement agency, with limited resources for investigating political corruption, which of these entities would you prioritize probing — the golf club that is currently allowing its wealthy patrons to “change the game” on White House policy, or the charitable foundation that may have provided its donors with special access to a former secretary of State (although your previous investigation of said foundation turned up no actionable evidence of criminal corruption)?
If you are the Trump-era Justice Department, the answer is the latter. As the Hill reports:
FBI agents from Little Rock, Ark., where the Foundation was started, have taken the lead in the investigation and have interviewed at least one witness in the last month, and law enforcement officials said additional activities are expected in coming weeks.
The officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the probe is examining whether the Clintons promised or performed any policy favors in return for largesse to their charitable efforts or whether donors made commitments of donations in hopes of securing government outcomes.
The probe may also examine whether any tax-exempt assets were converted for personal or political use and whether the Foundation complied with applicable tax laws, the officials said.
Meanwhile, the Daily Beast reports that the Justice Department is taking a “fresh look” at Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of State:
An ally of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who is familiar with the thinking at the Justice Department’s Washington headquarters described it as an effort to gather new details on how Clinton and her aides handled classified material. Officials’ questions include how much classified information was sent over Clinton’s server; who put that information into an unclassified environment, and how; and which investigators knew about these matters and when. The Sessions ally also said officials have questions about immunity agreements that Clinton aides may have made.
(Last September, the New York Times revealed that six top Trump administration officials — including senior adviser Jared Kushner — conducted official White House business over private email accounts.)
It is difficult to understand how it could possibly be in the national interest for federal law enforcement to prioritize reopening freshly closed probes into Hillary Clinton, as opposed to committing more resources to policing white-collar crime, or to any other form of malfeasance that they didn’t already, fruitlessly investigate within the last two years.
But it’s easy to see how doing so would be in Donald Trump’s interest. For the president’s core supporters, few (if any) of his campaign promises were more eagerly embraced than his pledge to “lock her up.” Further, in the eyes of Republican elected officials and voters, the existence of an investigation into the Trump campaign — but none into its rivals — was prima facie evidence of the deep state’s anti-democratic bias against the president.
In the Daily Beast’s reporting, the renewed attention on Clinton’s email server is (at least partly) inspired by “demands from President Donald Trump that they look into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of State—and that they lock up her top aide, Huma Abedin.” There’s every reason to think that the department’s decision to probe the Clinton Foundation (again) was also a product of the desire to counter Republican complaints about the “politicization of the FBI.”