Several news shows and outlets covering a new email dump by conservative group Judicial Watch have ignored developments undermining the group’s claims that emails show the State Department rewarded Clinton Foundation donors with access at the foundation’s request. Judicial Watch baselessly suggested that Doug Band, an aide to Bill Clinton, worked as an agent of the Clinton Foundation to facilitate a donor’s meeting with a U.S. ambassador. Numerous media outlets have reported on the story without noting that the ambassador has since explained that he never met with the donor.
Conservative Group Judicial Watch Releases Email Dump, Baselessly Suggesting It Shows Clinton Foundation “Worked To Reward Its Donors” With State Department Access
NY Times: Emails Released Showing Clinton Foundation Official Facilitating Donor Meeting With Ambassador. The conservative group Judicial Watch released an email dump that the organization suggests, in the words of The New York Times, shows that the Clinton Foundation “worked to reward its donors with access and influence at the State Department” under Hillary Clinton. One of the email exchanges shows Doug Band, an aide to both Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, in 2009 emailing Clinton State Department aide Huma Abedin asking that a foundation donor, Gilbert Chagoury, have a chance to speak with then-U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeff Feltman. From an August 9 Times article:
A new batch of State Department emails released Tuesday showed the close and sometimes overlapping interests between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department when Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state.
In one email exchange, for instance, an executive at the Clinton Foundation in 2009 sought to put a billionaire donor in touch with the United States ambassador to Lebanon because of the donor’s interests there.
In April 2009, Douglas J. Band, who led the foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative, emailed Ms. Abedin and Cheryl D. Mills, another top adviser to Mrs. Clinton, for help with a donor.
Mr. Band wrote that he needed to connect Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who was one of the foundation’s top donors, with someone at the State Department to talk about his interests in Lebanon.
“It’s jeff feltman,” Ms. Abedin answered, referring to Jeffrey Feltman, who was the American ambassador to Lebanon at the time. “I’m sure he knows him. I’ll talk to jeff.” [The New York Times, 8/9/16]
Numerous Media Outlets Run With Judicial Watch’s False Story Line About Band
Numerous Media Outlets Adopted Judicial Watch’s Frame. Media outlets across the spectrum -- including The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, CNN’s New Day, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and Fox News’ Fox & Friends -- immediately ran with the Times story, adopting Judicial Watch’s framing to speculate the emails may, as the Times put it, raise “questions about whether [the Clinton Foundation] worked to reward its donors with access and influence at the State Department.” The accounts adopted Judicial Watch’s frame that Band, acting as an agent of the Clinton Foundation on behalf of Clinton Foundation donors, was wielding influence in the State Department. [Media Matters, 8/10/16]
But Judicial Watch And The Outlets Adopting Its Story Line Downplayed Evidence Undermining The Story
Band Did Not Send Emails To State Department On Behalf Of Clinton Foundation; He Sent Them As Personal Aide To President Bill Clinton. Band was also a personal aide to President Bill Clinton during this time period. The Clinton campaign pointed out that Band emailed “on behalf of President Clinton from his presidentclinton.org email, not on behalf of the Foundation.” [Media Matters, 8/10/16]
There Is No Evidence That Clinton Foundation Donor Chagoury Was Seeking Financial Benefit From The State Department. The actual email exchange provides no evidence that, as the Times wrote, Band attempted to “connect” Chagoury with someone at the State Department to discuss “his interests in Lebanon.” Band gives no explanation for why Chagoury wants to speak to a “substance person re Lebanon.” A fact sheet distributed to surrogates by the Clinton campaign states that Chagoury, who is of Lebanese descent, “was simply seeking to share his insights on the upcoming Lebanese election with the right person at the Department of State for whom this information might be helpful. In seeking to provide information, he was not seeking action by the Department.” Nor does the Times explain what Chagoury’s “interests in Lebanon” are -- while the language suggests he has business interests in the country, the paper provides no evidence that is the case. Chagoury has engaged in philanthropic ventures in Lebanon. [Media Matters, 8/10/16]
Then-U.S. Ambassador To Lebanon Jeff Feltman Subsequently Confirms He Never Spoke With Clinton Foundation Donor Chagoury
CNN: Ambassador Never Met Or Spoke With Chagoury. Then-U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeff Feltman told CNN that he has “never met nor spoken with Mr Chagoury” and was not even “aware of the proposal that he speak to me until this email exchange was released.” From an August 10 article:
Feltman told CNN Wednesday that he never met with Chagoury.
“I have never met nor spoken with Mr Chagoury. I was not aware of the proposal that he speak to me until this email exchange was released, but in any case we never spoke,” he said. [CNN.com, 8/10/16]
Multiple News Outlets Ignore Development That Ambassador Feltman Never Met With Foundation Donor Chagoury
NBC’s Today Does Not Mention Ambassador’s Response But Says “Critics Questioning Whether Donations To The Clinton Foundation Bought Access To Her State Department.” NBC’s Today reported that Judicial Watch’s email dump “has critics questioning whether donations to the Clinton Foundation bought access to her State Department,” but did not mention that the ambassador said nothing came out of the request. From the August 11 edition of NBC’s Today:
HALLIE JACKSON: [Hillary] Clinton under fire herself. An email leak from a conservative advocacy group has critics questioning whether donations to the Clinton Foundation bought access to her State Department.
DONALD TRUMP: It's called pay for play. If emails were never invented, would she be happy?
JACKSON: Bill Clinton has defended the foundation, with Hillary Clinton's campaign telling NBC News the new emails don't relate to the foundation's work. [NBC, Today, 8/11/16]
ABC’s Good Morning America Fails To Mention Ambassador's Response But Says Emails Raise “Fresh Questions About Whether Favors Were Exchanged For Donations To The Clinton Foundation.” Good Morning America covered the email release by focusing on the Trump campaign’s attacks and claiming the release raised “fresh questions” about a potential exchange of favors. The ambassador’s response is not mentioned. From the August 11 edition of ABC’s Good Morning America:
CECILIA VEGA: This morning, a new batch of just released State Department emails raising fresh questions about whether favors were exchanged for donations to the Clinton Foundation. Trump is pouncing.
DONALD TRUMP: Pay for play. It’s called pay for play. You’re not allowed to do it. It’s illegal.
VEGA: While Clinton's campaign says Hillary Clinton never took action as Secretary of State because of donations to the Clinton Foundation. [ABC, Good Morning America, 8/11/16]
CBS This Morning Does Not Mention Ambassador’s Response But Claims Emails May “Contain Evidence Of Favors” For Donors. CBS This Morning reported that “critics allege” the emails “contain evidence of favors were granted to Clinton Foundation donors,” not mentioning the ambassador’s response. From the August 11 edition of CBS’ CBS This Morning:
MAJOR GARRETT: The point? Give Trump a way to drive attacks against Hillary Clinton and exploit her latest email revelations.
DONALD TRUMP: But this was big stuff. Pay for play. It's illegal. It's called pay for play.
GARRETT: At issue? Newly released emails from top aides at the State Department that critics allege contain evidence of favors were granted to Clinton Foundation donors.
TRUMP: It revealed so much. It revealed the lies, the deception, the dishonesty.
GARRETT: The Clinton campaign insists she, quote, “Never took action as secretary of state because of donations to the Clinton Foundation.” [CBS, CBS This Morning, 8/11/16]
Fox News’ Fox & Friends Does Not Mention Ambassador’s Response, Calls Email Exchange “Pay for Play.” Fox co-host Steve Doocy alleged the emails “look like pay for play” and revealed that “if you wanted something from the Clinton State Department, just give the Clinton Foundation some cash.” Doocy did not mention the ambassador said he never met with the donor. From the August 11 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Hillary Clinton assured America that there would be no conflict of interest between her foundation and her State Department. As new email revealed, that was not accurate. Not the case. And now a new report claims the Department of Justice chose not to investigate.
What do you make of the new -- I know everybody in the mainstream media is talking about what Donald Trump may or may not have said regarding the Second Amendment. He wanted people to go out and vote. And so lost in the shuffle has been the conversation about Hillary's email that were obtained by Judicial Watch that look like pay for play. In other words if you wanted something from the Clinton State Department, just give the Clinton Foundation some cash.
SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): Yeah I don't see how you could read those emails in any other way. The regular contact between the Clinton Foundation on the one hand and the State Department on the other hand, which is apparently in violation of at least the spirit, if not the letter of the letter of the agreement that she made when she went into the State Department as secretary of state. I've long said that I don't think the email controversy and the Clinton Foundation controversy are separate controversies. I think they're the same thing. I think one of the main reasons she set up that unsecure server was because she wanted to be able to continue to conduct Clinton Foundation business.
COTTON: A lot of these donors have business in front of the State Department and they got that business completed. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/11/16]
WSJ Omitted Feltman Response While Highlighting Trump Claim Clinton’s Aides Were “Engaging In A ‘Pay For Play’ Way Of Doing Business.” In an August 11 story highlighting Trump’s criticisms, The Wall Street Journal did not note that the ambassador said he never met with the donor:
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton targeted each other’s political vulnerabilities Wednesday, with the GOP presidential nominee questioning his Democratic rival’s ethics and honesty while Mrs. Clinton stoked doubts about his unpredictability.
In Virginia, Mr. Trump accused Mrs. Clinton’s inner circle of engaging in a “pay for play” way of doing business, citing emails released Tuesday that showed top Clinton Foundation officials seeking access to the State Department for major foundation donors while she was secretary of state.
Mr. Trump focused greater attention on another Tuesday event: the release of 296 pages of emails from Mrs. Clinton’s personal server, including many that weren’t handed over to the government as part of the Democratic nominee’s archive.
The documents were obtained by Judicial Watch, a conservative group, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
In one exchange, a Clinton Foundation official asked top aides to Mrs. Clinton to set up a meeting between a State Department official and Gilbert Chagoury, who donated between $1 million and $5 million to the foundation, according to its disclosures.
“We need Gilbert Chagoury to speak to the substance person re Lebanon,” Doug Band, aBill Clinton aide who helped launch the foundation, wrote in April 2009. “As you know, he’s key guy there and to us and is loved in Lebanon. Very imp.”
The Clinton campaign said in a statement that the emails in the exchange don’t “involve the Secretary or relate to the Foundation’s work. They are communications between her aides and the President’s personal aide...”
A campaign spokesman added that Mr. Chagoury had been seeking to offer the State Department his insights on the Lebanese election, rather than looking to elicit any official action. [The Wall Street Journal, 8/11/16]