In a lengthy September 6 article, The Washington Post examined the connections between Hillary Clinton’s State Department, the Clintons’ private philanthropic foundation, and former President Bill Clinton’s work as honorary chancellor of Laureate International Universities, a network of for-profit colleges located predominantly in Latin America. Although the Post found no evidence of wrongdoing, its report comes as conservative outlets from Fox News to Breitbart News continue to falsely frame the non-scandal as a smoking gun akin to the numerous allegations of fraud facing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s Trump University business.
The report acknowledged at its start that there is “no evidence” of any pay-to-play relationship between Laureate and the State Department, despite numerous evidence-free suggestions to the contrary from Fox News, media figure Roger Stone (an adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump), and other right-wing outlets.
The Post’s 2,600-plus-word piece on Laureate echoed its own earlier reporting and an extensive PolitiFact piece that ultimately found the Clintons’ relationship with Laureate Education and its schools to be essentially another trumped-up “optics” issue. Unfortunately, by largely rehashing what is already known, even with the exculpatory facts mentioned, such reporting feeds the persistent right-wing media efforts to attack the Clintons, which have trickled into mainstream outlets as a flawed attempt to exhibit balance in journalism.
In fact, the Post even explained that allegations related to Laureate originated from the discredited anti-Clinton book Clinton Cash, and that they were subsequently repeated and further distorted by the Trump campaign and right-wing media coverage. The paper cited its prior fact check that found Trump’s Laureate talking points “by all accounts … false.” And it noted that conservative efforts to “draw parallels between Laureate and Trump University” are flawed, in part due to a lack of evidence of any wrongdoing at Laureate. The paper explained that grants Laureate received from the State Department while Clinton was secretary of state were reportedly arranged before she took office:
The Clintons’ Laureate connection emerged as a campaign issue earlier this summer, when Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump charged that Hillary Clinton “laundered money” to her husband by funneling tens of millions of dollars in federal grants to Laureate while she was secretary of state.
By all accounts, Trump’s claim was false, and his campaign did not respond to requests for documentation.
The company says its campuses have received about $1.4 million total over the years in grants from the State Department and its international aid arm, USAID. Of that amount, only $15,000 came while Clinton was secretary of state — student scholarships funded by USAID, Laureate said.
Publicly available grant records are not detailed enough to corroborate Laureate’s exact numbers. But the records do show that neither Laureate nor any of its campuses has received any individual grants larger than $25,000 from the State Department or USAID.
Trump appeared to be drawing on — and misrepresenting — a report in the 2015 book “Clinton Cash” that grants from USAID to a separate charity chaired by Becker, the Laureate founder, increased during the Clinton years.
Founded in 1989, the International Youth Foundation has partnered with Laureate campuses in some of its charitable education work. The group has received USAID funding since 1999, and its president said the increase in USAID funding under Clinton was largely a result of the receipt of multi-year grants awarded before she entered office. There is no evidence Hillary Clinton played a role in the grants, and the group’s president, William Reese, said no government money went to Laureate or Becker.
Though some Republicans tried to draw parallels between Laureate and Trump University, the real estate seminar company founded by Trump that faces multiple fraud investigations, Laureate is a different sort of business.
The Post also referenced Clinton's decision -- which had been reported previously -- to invite a representative from Laureate to a State Department dinner on global higher education policy in 2009. But that seems to be the strongest example cited in the article of any direct contact between Hillary Clinton and Laureate Education. And even the expert cited by the Post admitted that, if in retrospect “it does seem unseemly,” Laureate representatives “were clearly a legitimate participant in this sort of event.”