When Donald Trump calls on Hillary Clinton to shut down the Clinton Foundation, it could be taken as just the usual cut and thrust of presidential campaigning. But when the Boston Globe, hardly a conservative or Republican news organization, says Clinton must suspend donations if she wins the presidency, it's clear that the issue being raised is not partisan.
Clinton expects to become president in January, and her odds of attaining that office seem pretty high. So it matters who is contributing to a fund over which she and her closest family members exercise control, and from which she has built a second life for her family in politics.
It especially matters given how Clinton intermingled official State Department business with Clinton Foundation business during her time as secretary. It's not just that they shared employees, or that donors could expect perks such as being appointed to important positions for which they were unqualified.
Donors, American and foreign, got special treatment from Clinton's State Department. Emails from top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, obtained by Judicial Watch, show that Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain had been rebuffed by State when he sought a meeting with Clinton, but after going through the Clinton Foundation, to which he had steered more than $32 million, his meeting was set up almost instantly.
Or take Casey Wasserman, a sports entertainment executive who wanted to bring a British soccer team to America. One of the players couldn't get a visa because of a "criminal charge." Emails show that Wasserman's company couldn't get help from Sen. Barbara Boxer's office, so he went to the Clinton Foundation, to which he had given several million dollars. A request from a foundation executive was in Abedin's inbox within four hours. Redactions make it unclear whether the request was granted.
When Slim-Fast founder Daniel Abraham wanted face time with Clinton, a last minute request was good enough. He happened to be in Washington on May 4, 2009, so Abedin asked Clinton just before 5 p.m. if she could meet him that day or the next. Clinton's reply ("Will the plane wait if I can't get there before 7-8?") indicates that it wasn't a problem, even for someone as busy as she. It probably didn't hurt that Abraham had donated more than $5 million to the foundation.
The new emails reveal more than half a dozen instances in which foundation donors pulled special strings for access to government that ordinary citizens don't have. There are also cases, as we've noted before, when the State Department granted foundation donor requests about their foreign business interests or the sale of American mineral rights to foreigners.
Even if this isn't the straight quid pro quo that it seems to be, the tandem operation of government and Clinton's charity created a clear conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety again and again during her time as secretary of state.
If that's how a Clinton State Department works, why would anyone expect a Clinton White House to operate differently? Even now, Clinton charities are leaving the door open to foreign donations.
Perhaps the Clinton Foundation has done some good work, but it is clearly dispensable. There are many donors willing to help those in need without the benefits of purchasing federal policy.
If Clinton wants to put this story to bed and avoid the appearance that her presidency is for sale, she should stop taking money, and put her foundation's remaining charitable works into the hands of other trustworthy nonprofit organizations.
When it's impossible to tell where a politician's official business stops and her private business begins, one can conclude that she has allowed them to intermingle far too much. This Clinton has done, whether through incompetence, venality or both. It is too much to hope that the thing she'll choose to shut down will be her political career. So instead, faute de mieux, it must be the foundation.