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$5 million? Sweet! But I don't want to look too excited!!!! Photo credit: WikiCommons

One of the major foreign donors to the Clinton Foundation is a Nigerian billionaire named Gilbert Chagoury, who’s best known for helping former dictator Sani Abacha hide vast sums of money offshore. Chagoury, who has an estate in Los Angeles, has long-time connections to the Clintons and has contributed at least $1 million and up to $5 million to the foundation.

According to a recent Los Angeles Times story, Bill Clinton’s White House aide and go-fer, Doug Band, pushed for access for Chagoury after Hillary Clinton took over at the State Department in 2009. Band, who essentially ran the foundation until last year, wrote contacts in the Department to say, “We need Gilbert Chagoury to speak to the substance guy re Lebanon. As you know he’s key guy there and to us and is loved in Lebanon. Very imp.” So Huma Abedin, Hillary’s longtime aide and now vice chairwoman of her presidential campaign, suggested he talk to then-U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman.

Here’s more from the story:

When Band’s email was made public this month, Donald Trump pounced, calling the Chagoury episode “illegal” and a “pay-to-play” scheme. But no meeting ever happened, according to both Feltman and Chagoury’s spokesman. Chagoury wanted only to pass along insights on Lebanese politics, Corallo said, adding that “nothing ever came of it” and that Chagoury never talked to anyone at the State Department. Band declined to comment for this story.

A Clinton campaign spokesman said Judicial Watch, the conservative organization that sued to make the emails public, “has been attacking the Clintons since the 1990s.”

“No matter how this group tries to mischaracterize these documents, the fact remains that Hillary Clinton never took action as secretary of State because of donations to the Clinton Foundation,” spokesman Josh Schwerin said.

So that clears everything up for the Times. There’s obviously nothing interesting here and charges of pay-to-play by Trump or anyone else have no merit and are just part of the right-wing media machine’s unfair attacks on the poor Clintons. Case closed, let’s all move along now.

Bullshit. I don’t dispute that no meeting took place in this instance, but it’s obvious to a child that Chagoury got fast attention and assistance from Clinton cronies.

Let’s look a little more closely at the Chagoury-Clinton relationship.

I’ve written about Chagoury in the past, including during Hillary’s confirmation hearings as secretary of state. He and his family are still active in global business and he’s Saint Lucia’s ambassador to UNESCO — a position he reportedly bought because he wanted diplomatic immunity from potential prosecution over his alleged involvement in international corruption scandals.

He’s advised a number of African leaders was especially close to Abacha, who seized power in a coup and ruled from 1993 to 1998. During those years, Chagoury received oil concessions and large-scale government construction contracts. After a civilian regime took charge, Chagoury reportedly paid the Nigerian government $300 million in exchange for a written agreement that he would not be prosecuted.

Sani & Friends: Clinton donor's preferred military leader, in his days of glory. Photo credit: WikiCommons
Sani & Friends: Clinton donor’s preferred military leader, in his days of glory. Photo credit: WikiCommons

Though he is not a U.S. national and is legally barred from making political contributions here, Chagoury has an established record of using money to curry political favor. In 1996, when Bill Clinton was president and Abacha led Nigeria, Chagoury contributed $460,000 to Miami-based voter registration group that was supported by the Democratic National Committee. He later dined at the White House. (By the way, the intermediary between the Clinton White House and Chagoury was Clinton crony and annoying media commentator James Carville.)

In 2003, according to the Wall Street Journal, Chagoury helped organize a Caribbean trip where the former president was paid $100,000 for a speech. He also attended Clinton’s 60th birthday bash and “joined the former president at the gala wedding celebration in France last year of Mr. Clinton’s top aide, Douglas Band,” according to the Journal.

Now things get a little more interesting.

The Lebanese press has recently reported that Chagoury has been pushing for Lebanese expat Vera El Khoury Lacoeuilhe, who is his top aide representing Saint Lucia — and also his very, very close personal friend — to head Paris-based UNESCO. By this account, Chagoury has persuaded Lebanon’s foreign minister to to support his friend’s bid and he also has “business ties” with her husband.

Hey, guess whose support would really be useful to Chagoury’s pal at UNESCO? I bet a little quiet help from former secretary of state and possible incoming president Hillary Clinton would go a long way here.

So has Hillary been lobbying directly or indirectly, through minions, for Ms. El Khoury Lacoeuilhe’s nomination? I’ve reached out to multiple sources and have heard conflicting things. One Lebanese source flat out denied it while a second well-connected U.S. source said he’d heard there’s been some indirect help.

But either way, to anyone who understand politics or who even merely has a semi-functional brain, there’s a clear quid pro quo dynamic in the Chagoury-Clinton relationship.

Chagoury, who like lots of rich people bills himself as a “philanthropist,” has a reputation for being a ruthless international businessman who’ll do anything to make a buck. Trust me, charity is not the first thing he thinks about in the morning when he rolls out of bed at his mansion and eases into his robe and slippers.

And why, if he’s so wonderfully altruistic, does he funnel so much cash to the low-achieving Clinton Foundation instead of to one of his own allegedly charitable enterprises? Because he shares the Clinton Family’s vision of world peace and income distribution? Yeah, that must be it.

But let me propose an alternative explanation.

Chagoury sees his donations to the foundation as a means of currying favor with the Clintons. He doesn’t expect family members to jump every time he snaps his fingers — that would be too obvious and could possibly leave dirty paper and electronic trails as well. Every once in awhile a reckless political donor expects he can make a contribution to a politician and get a bill immediately introduced and every once in awhile some dipstick politician obliges said reckless donor.

But that’s not the way things generally works and Chagoury is smart enough to know it. He just wants to know that he has full access to the family and that now and then, directly or indirectly, the Clintons will go to bat for him. Attending Bill’s birthday party, hanging out with the family and meeting their influential friends is a lot of icing on the cake.

That leads me to another thing. Last month the Clinton Foundation announced that it would stop accepting donations from foreigners if Hillary becomes presidency. This was heralded by much of the media, including the New York Times, as some sort of huge step forward.

But, as usual, the press screwed things up. First off, the announcement was a tacit admission that the foundation’s previous acceptance of foreign money posed obvious conflict-of-interest questions.

More importantly, even if the foundation stops taking foreign money, the Clinton family and its minions will remain in charge. For the past fifteen years or so they’ve proved very adept at raising piles of dirty money and spending it in very opaque fashion with little to show for it other than polishing the family’s political brand.

The Clinton Foundation should be thoroughly investigated, by government agencies and the media. Meanwhile, there’s only one way that it should be allowed to keep operating: it should have an elected, independent board of people who don’t have intimate ties to the Clintons, as is now the case.

Everything else is window-dressing because otherwise the family will remain in full control of the enterprise. And I’m willing to bet heavily that the Clintons aren’t going to ever tolerate such a thing, because an independently-controlled foundation might prioritize charitable work, not politics, and that would defeat their purpose.

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  • cityzen

    The media can’t “find” the quid pro quos because, in effect, it looks too hard and too closely. The refusal or inability to apply the term “corruption” in connection with the Clintons is a consequence of the application, by establishment media, of sliding scale standards: when it comes to the (presumptive) future “leader of the free world”, the standard for using that term is set impossibly high, beyond “beyond a reasonable doubt”. On the other hand, when it comes to figures like Putin, for instance, any bit of tenuous evidence – any allegation, rumour, innuendo and/or wild conspiracy theory, no matter how thinly sourced – will do. At one point the NYT ran a lengthy story on the “Search for Secret Putin Fortune” where the only concrete evidence cited in favour of said fortune was the fact that he wears apparently expensive watches. By contrast, even as the mountain of e-mails and other such evidence keeps growing, no one will draw the proper inferences because every single “fact”, no matter how solid or seemingly conclusive, will be contested, parsed and diluted – and so, laundered – into oblivion.