Former President Bill Clinton once sought information from Hillary Clinton’s State Department about speaking invitations “related to two of the most repressive countries in the world,” ABC News reported Friday.
According to the report, Bill Clinton’s team wanted feedback three years ago on two potential paid speeches. One was for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo, and the other was “related” to Noth Korea.
It’s not clear what, exactly, the North Korea speech would haved entailed but the government is a fierce adversary of the US.
Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, is the 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner.
The emails shine a light on what has been one of the more controversial aspects of her campaign: Bill Clinton’s highly lucrative paid speeches, some of which conservative critics alleged represented conflicts of interest for his wife. The State Department reviewed and at least one time questioned some of his speeches connected to foreign governments.
“Is it safe to assume [the US government] would have concerns about WJC accepting the attached invitation related to North Korea?” a Bill Clinton staffer reportedly wrote to some of Hillary Clinton’s top aides in 2012, using the former president’s initials.
The State Department, predictably, panned the idea.
“Decline it,” replied Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills.
But the Bill Clinton staffer, Amitabh Desai, still wanted more information, and reportedly said the invitation came via Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham. (Rodham is no stranger to controversy and was linked to alleged political favours in a report published by the Department of Homeland Security’s investigator general.)
“We would be grateful for any specific concerns that we could share,” Desai reportedly wrote to the State Department three weeks after Mills shot down the North Korea idea. “Tony is seeing WJC in a couple hours.”
Mills replied: “If he needs more let him know his wife knows and I am happy to call him secure when he is near a secure line.”
ABC said that it obtained the messages because of a records request from the conservative group Citizens United.
The details of the Congo invitation were even more fleshed out in the report, written by ABC’s chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl.
In a June 2012 email to the State Department, Desai wanted to know if Bill Clinton could speak in Brazzaville, Congo, and pose for photos with the “dictators” of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Karl wrote. The speaking fee for the gig: $US650,000.
Bill Clinton apparently wanted to give the money to his family’s foundation.
“WJC wants know what state thinks of it if he took it 100% for the foundation,” Desai wrote to Mills and other Clinton aides, including her close adviser Huma Abedin. “We’d welcome your thoughts.”
The Harry Walker Agency, which helped coordinate Bill Clinton’s speeches, reportedly recommended turning down the invitation given the human-rights record of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s problematic leader, Joseph Kabila.
“The speaking agency’s vetting of the Democratic Republic of the Congo noted the ‘prevalence and intensity of sexual violence against women in eastern Congo is widely described as the worst in the world,'” Karl wrote.
The legitimacy of Kabila’s government has also been questioned.
“The 2011 presidential election was tainted by serious irregularities and voter fraud, according to American and European electoral observers,” The New York times noted earlier this year. “Kabila’s second term began in controversy, with protests erupting and his main challenger also claiming victory.”
In response to the ABC story, Bill Clinton’s office said that the emails were routine and that he did not ultimately give either speech.
“As a matter of course, all requests were run by the State Department. Ultimately, the President did not give these speeches,” Clinton’s press secretary told ABC.
A top Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman also dismissed the story on Twitter:
But Karl disagreed and wrote back that it is notable that Bill Clinton even needed to ask about these two invitations:
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