If nothing else, the Clintons deserve credit for acquiring a more sophisticated taste for corruption over the last two decades.
In 2016, we are talking about the stench emanating from the Clinton Foundation, but 20 years earlier, America was intrigued by the campaign fundraising scandal, better known as Chinagate. The underlying commonality between the two controversies is the Clintons using public office to allow — or invite — foreign influence into U.S. policy.
“They clearly learned a lot since the 1990s … The Clinton Foundation is a more sophisticated, vastly more expansive version of Chinagate.”
Both scandals also involved Democratic attorneys general who were — to be charitable — less than eager to dig into the matters. In the 1990s, it was Janet Reno; today, it’s Loretta Lynch.
“The Clintons have a legacy of leveraging government office for personal gain,” Chris Farrell, director of research and investigations for Judicial Watch, told LifeZette.
“Chinagate was more crass and haphazard, rougher around the edges,” Farrell said. “The foundation is a vehicle that facilitates all kinds of financial transactions while simultaneously draping itself with the flag of a do-gooder charity … The Clinton Foundation is far more sophisticated and involves more money than Chinagate.”
A majority of non-government officials who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state were major donors to the Clinton Foundation, The Associated Press reported. There were numerous coincidences of Clinton State Department actions that worked in favor of the contributors (documented in Peter Schweizer's "Clinton Cash" book and documentary). Similarly, in the 1990s, businessmen close to the Chinese government got extraordinary access to President Bill Clinton in the White House, through visits, coffees, and sleepovers.
The level of apparent corruption was astonishing, but there was no smoking gun in Chinagate — largely because then-Attorney General Reno did her part to protect President Clinton, even as the case cried out for a special prosecutor. Similarly, Farrell said there likely won't be a special prosecutor looking into the ethical questions surrounding the Clinton Foundation as long as Lynch heads the Department of Justice.
The big difference, of course, is that Chinagate was about campaign donations toward the Clinton re-election of 1996. A secretary of state can't seek campaign donations — good reason for using the Clinton Foundation.
"They clearly learned a lot since the 1990s," investigative journalist Kenneth Timmerman, author of "Selling Out America" about the fundraising scandal, said.
"Now it seems they know how to circumvent investigations through setting up a private email server," Timmerman continued. "They also learned that direct donations to a political campaign are not as discreet as money funneled through a private foundation. It might pass the smell test a little more. The Clinton Foundation is a more sophisticated, vastly more expansive version of Chinagate."
One strong parallel: Uranium One while Hillary was secretary of state, and Loral and Hughes when Bill was president.
The Uranium One chairman Ian Telfer contributed a total of $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation, while Bill Clinton got $500,000 for a speech in Moscow to a group promoting Uranium One stock. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among the U.S. officials to approve the Uranium One sale to Russian investors.
In the late 1990s, congressional investigators probed the technology transfers of ballistic-missile data from Loral and Hughes companies owned by major Clinton campaign fundraisers.
Both demonstrate an "utter disregard the Clintons have for national security," Timmerman said.
The Clintons have refused to sever ties with their foundation, but have said if Hillary becomes president, no more foreign donations.
That's easy to get around, Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, a government watchdog group, told The Hill. Flynn said there are "lots of different ways" foreign money could flow to the Clinton Foundation without being traced by the public. Flynn cited the example of the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which sent more than $25 million of once-untraceable money to the Clinton Foundation. She said it would be fairly easy for another partnership or limited liability corporation to give money almost undetected.
A major difference between the two scandals, however, is that if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, further investigation into the Clinton Foundation is unlikely, barring congressional oversight so overwhelming the Justice Department is embarrassed into taking action.
Chinagate did see prosecutions, although more than 100 people connected to the scandal either fled the country or invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie pleaded guilty to charges of violating campaign finance rules in exchange for having pending indictments dropped. Johnny Chung, who received a $150,000 transfer from the Bank of China three days before he handed then-first lady Hillary Clinton's chief of staff a $50,000 check, was required to perform community service after cooperating with both the FBI and Congress.
No jail time for anyone in a scandal that was at best a subversion of campaign finance laws, and at worst what then-Rep. Dan Burton called "treason." Yet it's likely more accountability than we'll see for the Clinton Foundation, should Bill and Hillary return to the old family estate.
Last Modified: September 7, 2016, 8:32 am