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Will questions about conflict of interest hurt the Clinton campaign?

April 23, 2015 at 6:35 PM EST
According to The New York Times, a uranium company that donated millions to the Clinton Foundation sought approval during Hillary Clinton's State Department tenure to sell control to Russia. Also, Reuters reported that the Clinton Foundation is re-filing tax returns due to errors. Judy Woodruff learns more from Carolyn Ryan of The New York Times and Jonathan Allen of Reuters.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Two news reports out today are raising questions about Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.

The New York Times reported a company now known as Uranium One sought approval to sell control of the company to Russia’s atomic energy agency. The owners of that company donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation. The State Department, headed by Hillary Clinton at the time, signed off on the sale.

Also today, Reuters reported the Clinton Foundation and another family charity are refiling at least five annual tax forms due to errors. The foundation failed to include tens of millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments.

Spokespeople for Clinton and the Clinton Foundation insist there is no wrongdoing.

Well, we are joined now by New York Times Washington bureau chief and its political editor, Carolyn Ryan, and Reuters reporter Jonathan Allen, who broke the story.

And we welcome both of you.

Carolyn Ryan, let me start with you.

The New York Times’ story today does describe a Canadian — a wealthy Canadian businessman. He’s the chairman of this company that owns significant uranium mining interests in the United States. He also happens to be making huge — large donations to the Clinton foundations. And then it turns to the move by the Russian atomic energy to buy controlling interest in that company. Fill us in from there.

CAROLYN RYAN, The New York Times: Well, the nub, essentially, the ethical issue here is that this panel, U.S. government panel, was overseeing and had to sign off on this deal, and the donations that you speak of were not disclosed by the Clintons, as they agreed to do as part of the agreement that they set up with the Obama administration when Mrs. Clinton became secretary of state.

So it was multimillion-dollar contributions that were not disclosed, leading up to this key vote on whether this deal could go through.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what is the Clinton campaign, what is the Clinton Foundation saying? We do have one statement that I guess they put out late this afternoon with regard to the Russian effort, which was successful, to buy a controlling interest in this company.

It said: “Hillary Clinton herself did not participate in the review or direct the Department to take any position on the sale of Uranium One,” this company.

Is that pretty much all they have said?

CAROLYN RYAN: Well, they have been — some of their answers have been quite general and they haven’t answered a lot of our direct questions.

This panel is one of the few in the United States government, in the federal government that is actually exempt from public records. So we’re not able to get any notes or minutes of these proceedings, and we don’t know a lot about the deliberations on the panel. So they have not provided us with a lot of information about what went on within the State Department about that.

And we still don’t know why they didn’t disclose the contributions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, quickly, there are still outstanding questions here.

CAROLYN RYAN: Absolutely.

There are a bunch of outstanding questions that we have put to them and that we’re hoping to get more answers to.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Jonathan Allen with Reuters, let me turn to you now. Your story today is about mistakes in tax filings by the Clinton Foundation and by their — one of their charities that has to do with — it’s called the Health Access Initiative — and what they didn’t file. Tell us exactly what happened.

JONATHAN ALLEN, Reuters: They made mistakes on several of their 990 forms. These are the forms charities have to send to the IRS every year to maintain their tax-exempt status.

No taxes levied on this, of course, but one purpose of these documents is that anyone can sort of walk in, ask to see them to figure out how a charity is raising money, how a charity is spending money. The errors in this case were all to do with sort of the line on the form where you say how much you got in government grants, both U.S. and foreign. But the Clinton charities tend not to receive money from U.S. governments, federal, national, or state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is it known — excuse me — is it known from what sources the money came and how much?

JONATHAN ALLEN: Well, this is actually what I was trying to pin down when I began stumbling across these errors.

It’s certainly no secret that certain foreign governments continued to support foundation projects throughout this period. This is 2010 onwards, by the way. I believe Norway may be an example. Australia may be an example. And we know it’s to the tunes of tens of millions of dollars. That what it certainly was before 2010, which makes it all the more striking that sort of these breakouts weren’t included on these forms.

But we will have to wait until the refiles appear before we know for sure what they have should have told the IRS.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to come back to you quickly, Carolyn Ryan. A part of the New York Times’ story today did say that some of the information in the piece was based on reporting done by a conservative writer who has come out with a new book about the Clintons. How much of The New York Times reporting was dependent on that?

CAROLYN RYAN: I would characterize that book as really almost a tip sheet or reporting leads.

The two reporters at The Times who got involved in this, we have Jo Becker, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mike McIntire, a Pulitzer finalist just this week, they did dozens of interviews. They gathered a lot of records. And so they really went deep. This is very intricate and difficult reporting tracing this money. And they really did a lot of original reporting.

And I would just note that this whole story began actually in 2008 with a story that Jo Becker did about the Kazakstan uranium deal. So, Peter Schweizer, the author, the conservative author, sort of following Jo Becker.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Carolyn Ryan — I want to ask both of you this question.

Is there a sense at this point of the political implications for Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

CAROLYN RYAN: Well, I think the timing is not great, because I think, though many people thought that she had a good campaign rollout, she’s really trying to present herself in a way to blunt the Elizabeth Warrens of her party as a sincere messenger for the message of economic mobility, economic inequality.

And I think these stories, while they’re intricate and sometimes hard to understand, these stories have a way of underscoring the international orbit that the Clintons operate in, which is sort of a world awash in money and connections and a very privileged place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jonathan Allen, to you, a sense of the political implications?

JONATHAN ALLEN: No, I mean, I agree with what was just said.

I think, in the case of the problems on these forms, earlier reporting we did that found this transparency agreement Mrs. Clinton signed with the Obama administration was breached by these charities, I think these will add to the questions that her political opponents put to her. She’s very proud of the charity, she says. But people are asking her, was it as well-managed and transparent as you hoped it would be?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you, Jonathan Allen.

And, Carolyn Ryan, thank you.

CAROLYN RYAN: Thank you, Judy.

JONATHAN ALLEN: Thank you.

 

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