If the GOP had nominated someone with enough self-control to avoid attacking Gold Star families and joking about insurrectionary violence, they’d be in pretty good shape right now. Hillary Clinton remains one of the least popular major-party nominees in recent history, with an unfavorable rating hovering around 54 percent. Decades of mendacious right-wing attacks — combined with Clinton’s genuine indiscretions — have gifted her an aura of untrustworthiness and corruption. And on Tuesday night, the latest chapter in her endless email scandal drew renewed attention to that aura. Or, at least, it would have, had Trump resisted the temptation to joke about Clinton being assassinated.
The Democratic nominee’s critics have long claimed that donors to her family’s foundation enjoyed undue influence in her State Department. In 2015, the New York Times reported that the Clinton Global Initiative accepted donations from Canadian mining magnates while those magnates had a request pending before the State Department to sell off a uranium-production company to Russia’s atomic-energy agency. Secretary Clinton approved that request. But the Democratic standard-bearer has vociferously denied that associates of the CGI wielded any influence over her decisions in government.
On Tuesday night, the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch released a batch of emails that call Clinton’s denials into question. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the organization obtained a pair of email exchanges that Clinton had not included in the 55,000 pages of “work-related emails” she turned over to the State Department. In one of those exchanges, an executive at the Clinton Foundation asked for the State Department to put a billionaire donor in touch with the American ambassador to Lebanon. In another, he pushed Clinton’s aides to find a job for an associate within the department. In both instances, Clinton’s aides appeared to oblige the requests.
“We need Gilbert Chagoury to speak to the substance person re Lebanon,” Clinton Foundation head Doug Band wrote to Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin in 2009. “As you know, he’s a key guy there and to us and is loved in Lebanon. Very imp.”
“It’s jeff feltman,” Abedin replied, referring to Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon at the time. “I’m sure he knows him. I’ll talk to jeff.”
In a separate exchange, Band asked Abedin and Mills for “a favor” regarding an associate who had recently taken a Clinton Foundation trip to Haiti and was apparently seeking federal employment.
“We all have him on our radar,” Abedin wrote back. “Personnel has been sending him options.”
The Clinton campaign argues that Band was writing in his capacity as Clinton’s personal assistant, rather than in his role as the leader of the Clinton Global Initiative.
“Neither of these emails involve the Secretary or relate to the foundation’s work,” the campaign said in a statement. “They are communications between her aides and the president’s personal aide, and indeed the recommendation was for one of the secretary’s former staffers who was not employed by the foundation.”
Even in the least charitable interpretation of the emails, the brand of cronyism they reveal is more distasteful than dangerous. It’s hard to see how a pro-Clinton billionaire getting a little face time with the ambassador to Lebanon jeopardizes the public interest. Nonetheless, the exchanges raise questions about what other favors the foundation’s donors might have been able to secure.
This is not the kind of bombshell that could single-handedly rescue a candidate as troubled as Donald Trump. But it is the sort of thing that would solidify John Kasich’s lead over Clinton, in some parallel universe.