Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) told us so.
The scandal surrounding 2016 presidential-hopeful Hillary Clinton regarding her foreign contributions to her Clinton Foundation during the time she was Secretary of State has been perceived as a scandal that no one knew about until now.
But, that is so not the case because back in 2009, Vitter knew exactly what was going on and what could on with Clinton as head of the State Department.
On Jan. 9, 2009, Vitter grilled Clinton on the issue during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. At the time, Vitter’s main concern was a conflict of interest with the Clinton Foundation, particularly foreign contributions.
Vitter wanted to imposed limits on who could give and how much — including foreign governments —and make disclosures more transparent. He even said at the hearing, that he wanted to make sure that the country’s foreign policy did not appear to be “for sale” with Clinton leading the State Department.
On Sunday, the New York Post said the Senators who confirmed Clinton 16-1 (Vitter was the only vote against Clinton), could also be in trouble if it comes to light that they knew Clinton was using the Clinton Foundation to influence foreign affairs.
In a statement about his warning of Clinton’s scandal, Vitter said “We should have known then that conflicts of interest between the Clintons and their Foundation could threaten American interests at any time. But it’s not too late to hold Hillary Clinton accountable for these decisions now.”
Just so that you can see for yourself how Vitter was the only Senator to object to Clinton’s possible conflict of interest as Secretary of State, here is the full transcript from the Jan. 9, 2009 committee hearing:
VITTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and congratulations on your new chairmanship.
KERRY: Thank you very much.
VITTER: And thank you, Senator Clinton, for all of your public service, including being open to this very challenging position.
Like a lot of folks, I have some concerns about these conflict issues, particularly with regard to the Clinton Foundation, and so I wanted to spend my first round exploring those concerns.
Let me say a couple things — first, that I think a lot of folks legitimately share these concerns across the spectrum, from the — from the New York Times to Senator Lugar, who submitted some questions about it to me. That — that perhaps defines the entire political spectrum. I’m not sure.
And also, they arise because of very extraordinary circumstances, your husband being a former president, his very unique work in terms of the foundation, and — and in terms of that work — I applaud that, but they nevertheless arise because of that, and I think it really requires an extraordinary response.
Obviously, you all have put forward this memorandum of understanding to suggest that such a response — and so I wanted to go into that and some of the details about it and some of my concerns.
And — and these posters just sort of briefly outline the situation before the MOU with the foundation, and those — all those abbreviations are the ones used in the MOU, and then the situation after.
One thing that sort of leaped out at me is with regard to the Clinton Global Initiative, which in many ways is the most public and perhaps significant of these initiatives. Under the MOU, there’s no disclosure of contributions, contributors, going forward.
And that seems to be a big — a big omission, because, again, that’s one of the most significant activities here, probably the most widely followed and recognized in terms of the annual conference, et cetera.
Would you support and help produce an amended MOU that would bring the same disclosure to future contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative?
CLINTON: Well, Senator, I — I appreciate your concern, and your question, and — and I recognize that these are unique circumstances, to say the least.
I am very proud to be the president-elect’s nominee for secretary of state, and I am very proud of what my husband and the Clinton Foundation and the associated efforts he’s undertaken have accomplished, as well.
It is not unique, however, for spouses of government officials to work and there are very well established rules for what is expected when that occurs.
In this particular case, the Office of Government Ethics and the career ethics officials at the State Department have looked at the rules and concluded there is not an inherent conflict of interest in any of my husband’s work at all.
However, the foundation and the president-elect decided to go beyond what the law and the ethics rules call for to address even the appearance of conflict and that is why they signed a memorandum of understanding, which outlines the voluntary steps that the foundation is taking to address potential concerns that might come up down the road.
The memorandum of understanding is, as you know, public and the president-elect and the foundation and I have all worked to be very transparent.
My team has stayed in close touch with the committee and we’ve addressed the committee’s questions on these issues in a broad range of written answers which are part of the so-called QFRs, the questions for the record.
But I want to speak for a minute, if I can, about the work that is done, because I think it’s important…
VITTER: Mr. Chairman, I have no objection listening to this, but I’d like it not to come out of my time, because I’d like to pursue these questions.
KERRY: Well, I guess it’s fair to say that if you ask a question, you deserve an answer and the answer traditionally comes out of the time of the Senator.
VITTER: Well, I’m still waiting for the answer. I’d love an answer. But if there is an answer to my question…
KERRY: Well, I think you need to give the Senator an opportunity to give you the answer and if you need additional time…
VITTER: Let me repeat the question, which was would you support and help produce a new MOU that requires the same sort of disclosure for contributions for the Clinton Global Initiative.
Under this, there is no disclosure moving forward for contributions of the Clinton Global Initiative. So it’s a yes or no. Would you support expanding that disclosure?
Admittedly, this is voluntary. It’s not required by law. But it seems to be a big exception to the rule of the MOU in terms of disclosure.
CLINTON: Well, I think that the MOU and the other undertakings that have been worked out between the president-elect and the transition and the foundation and my husband have looked very broadly at all of the questions that you’re raising, and there are answers to many of these questions in the collection of answers that we have provided.
And I will be happy to provide additional material and answers to you in response to that question.
VITTER: OK. Well, if you could consider that suggestion, I think that’s a big gap in the MOU that moving forward, the Clinton Global Initiative is separated from the foundation and then there’s no disclosure whatsoever about contributors to the Clinton Global Initiative.
The other big gap, it seems to me, is that the disclosure in the MOU is for new contributors. And so old contributors who re-give or who even substantially increase their contributions, if it’s to certain initiatives, aren’t disclosed.
Would you consider amending that so that all contributions, whether from new contributors or old contributors, would be disclosed?
CLINTON: All contributors will be disclosed and all contributors to the Clinton Global Initiative are disclosed and public as of now anyway.
VITTER: OK, but that changes under the MOU.
KERRY: If I could just interrupt, Senator. I think if you look at the MOU and you look at the subsequent questions that were answered by the Senator to the committee, because we followed up on this issue, I believe that all — we asked the question, “Will all future contributions to the foundation be disclosed,” and…
VITTER: To the foundation?
KERRY: That’s the foundation, but in addition, it’s my understanding that under the MOU, the CGI additionally, if there are contributions, they would be disclosed at the end of the year.
CLINTON: That’s right.
VITTER: OK. I’m very happy to hear that. That’s not what’s in the MOU. So if I could simply request, before our vote, a document or an amendment from the transition and the foundation that clarify that, because under the MOU, moving forward, the Clinton Global Initiative is separated from the foundation and then there’s disclosure under the foundation.
CLINTON: Well, Senator, I believe that all the answers that are relevant to these inquiries are in the record. There is no intention to amend the MOU. It has been worked out between the transition and the foundation.
But the Clinton Global Initiative is a pass-through. The money of any donors to put on the Clinton Global Initiative are public and there is no ongoing — you know, the foundation is a yearly event. It’s unlike the foundation.
So we will clarify it. We will definitely clarify that for you.
VITTER: Well, it would be great if you can clarify it. Again, I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but under the MOU, as it stands, there is no required disclosure going forward for Clinton Global Initiative contributions and there is no necessary required disclosure for new contributions of old contributors, just new contributors.
There’s also been the suggestion from a lot of folks to disclose the date and amount or at least amount within ranges of new contributions and to do that at least quarterly rather than annually.
Would you be open to that?
CLINTON: Well, again, this is an agreement that has been worked out between all of the parties and the fact is that the concerns that were raised in the discussions between the foundation and the president-elect’s team were thoroughly discussed and they believe, and I agree, that the transparency and disclosure that is needed, which, as you said yourself, it goes beyond any kind of legal or ethical consideration.
And not only that, there will be ongoing — there will be ongoing reviews by anything that is brought to the attention of the career professionals.
But I just have to go back, Senator, and try to set the record straight. CGI is not in the memorandum of understanding because they already have a practice of disclosing all of their contributions. There is no need to require it.
I will certainly state here that they’re going to continue the practice which they’ve already done.
No president has ever disclosed the contributions to his foundation. So when my husband agreed to disclose the contributions to his foundation, that was a very unprecedented event, which he was happy to do. But the Clinton Global Initiative, which is separate from the foundation, has always disclosed the contributions.
VITTER: Well, again, I’d love for that to be embodied in any agreement that’s at issue. So I’ll look forward to that.
KERRY: Well, Senator, can I just — this won’t come out of your time, but let me make sure the record is clear here.
As I understand it, I think Senator Lugar has raised a couple points and we’re going to address them perhaps a little bit later, but I don’t think this one, frankly, is on target, for the following reason.
On page four, paragraph two, it specifically says that CGI, President Clinton personally will not solicit funds. President Clinton will continue to send invitation letters to potential entity. However, he will no longer send sponsorship letters which seek contributions. Apart from attendance fees, CGI will not accept contributions from foreign governments.
So there is no solicitation and no acceptance of a foreign government.
VITTER: But, for instance, there could be foreign national contributions, which, within the four corners of this agreement, are not disclosed, not necessarily disclosed.
I mean, my question is, in that same paragraph, why isn’t there a disclosure requirement.
KERRY: Well, I think the Senator has appropriately said that they will answer that in the addendum.
VITTER: I’d look forward to that, as well as the old contributor issue, because it just talks about new contributors.
Again, let me back up and underscore the central concern, which is I really do think this poses a lot of real and perceived conflict issues and you just need to look at some of the contributors from the past, particularly from the Middle East, to get a sense of what I’m talking about.
For instance, a lobby foundation supports Iranian causes. Just this past December 19, they made a substantial contribution to the foundation and that same day, the president of the foundation was indicted for obstruction of justice related to terrorist financing. And two days earlier, Treasury had named a partner of the foundation as a, quote, “terrorist entity.”
Another partner of the foundation, Bank Melli, has long been thought to be a procurement front for the Iranian nuclear program.
That’s the sort of big issue, conflict issue that I think this poses, which could obviously complicate your job and be an impediment to your effectiveness. Another similar example, Issam Fares, former deputy prime minister of Lebanon, he’s a big supporter of Hezbollah, says it’s not in any way a terrorist organization, doesn’t target the U.S.
I’m sure the widows and family members of the victims of the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 Americans were comforted by that. Obviously, they are terrorists, they do target the U.S. This poses serious issues.
So I look forward to following-up and getting that clarification and, also, I think it would round out this agreement immeasurably to include the date and amount of contributions, to pledges made, not simply have disclosures when a payment is made, and to at least do quarterly reports versus annual reports.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KERRY: Thank you very much, Senator Vitter.