Media are once again rushing to scandalize newly released State Department emails pushed by the conservative group Judicial Watch that allegedly show a conflict of interest created by “Clinton Foundation donors receiving special access” to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But the emails actually show the heir to a head of state arranged a meeting with Clinton through “official channels,” as he had with Clinton’s previous Republican predecessors.
Judicial Watch’s press release framed the emails as showing “Hillary Clinton State Department Gave Special Access to Top Clinton Foundation Donors,” and focused on exchanges between Bill Clinton aide Doug Band and Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin regarding a meeting Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain requested with Clinton. Judicial Watch suggested that the crown prince’s relationship with the Clinton Foundation was crucial to him meeting with Clinton:
Included among the Abedin-Band emails is an exchange revealing that when Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain requested a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, he was forced to go through the Clinton Foundation for an appointment. Abedin advised Band that when she went through “normal channels” at State, Clinton declined to meet. After Band intervened, however, the meeting was set up within forty-eight hours. According to the Clinton Foundation website, in 2005, Salman committed to establishing the Crown Prince’s International Scholarship Program (CPISP) for the Clinton Global Initiative. And by 2010, it had contributed $32 million to CGI. The Kingdom of Bahrain reportedly gave between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. And Bahrain Petroleum also gave an additional $25,000 to $50,000.
From: Doug Band
To: Huma Abedin
Sent: Tue Jun 23 1:29:42 2009
Cp of Bahrain in tomorrow to Friday
Asking to see her
Good friend of ours
From: Huma Abedin
To: Doug Band
Sent: Tue Jun 23 4:12:46 2009
He asked to see hrc thurs and fri thru normal channels. I asked and she said she doesn’t want to commit to anything for thurs or fri until she knows how she will feel. Also she says that she may want to go to ny and doesn’t want to be committed to stuff in ny…
From: Huma Abedin [Huma@clintonemail.com]
Sent: Thursday, June 25, 2009 10:35:15 AM
To: Doug Band
Offering Bahrain cp 10 tomorrow for meeting woith [sic] hrc
If u see him, let him know
We have reached out thru official channels
But the emails show that the meeting was proposed and arranged through “normal” and “official channels,” not through “special access” as Judicial Watch characterized it. Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain “asked to see [Clinton] thurs and fri thru normal channels,” according to the emails, and Clinton didn’t “want to commit to anything” until she confirmed her schedule and how she was feeling. Later that week, Abedin confirmed that Clinton and her staff “reached out [to Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain] thru official channels” to set up the meeting.
According to a write-up from Agence France-Presse, obtained via Nexis search, the meeting was about the “tense post-election climate in Iran and the Middle East peace process” -- exactly the sorts of topics one would expect the secretary of state to discuss with a Middle Eastern leader.
Given that past secretaries of state and US presidents have met with Crown Prince Salman -- including Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and President George W. Bush -- it’s not unusual that the crown prince sought a meeting with Clinton during her tenure as secretary of state, and there is no evidence he got the meeting due to his affiliation with the Clinton Foundation.
But that hasn't prevented the press from trying to turn the meeting into a scandal.
Media outlets immediately ran with the story, suggesting that “the new revelations,” as Politico put it, “add to the controversy that has swirled around the Clinton Foundation, with Donald Trump and other critics accusing Hillary Clinton of using her position at the State Department to reward major donors through access to other power players.”
The Wall Street Journal scandalized the emails, saying they “could fuel criticism that the Clinton family’s charitable foundation, in fundraising with wealthy donors, corporations and foreign nations, created a conflict of interest for Mrs. Clinton during her work as the nation’s top diplomat.”
A Fox News article wrote that “Such emails have fueled accusations from Republicans of a ‘pay-to-play’ operation.”
CNN’s John Berman said, “It doesn't literally have to be provable pay to play to have an appearance problem.”
These accounts adopt Judicial Watch’s frame that the meeting between Bahrain’s crown prince and Clinton was granted only because of “special, expedited access” and “preferential treatment” because of his relationship with the Clinton Foundation, and that at the least, the emails and meeting reflect bad optics.