Madam Secretary

Already, donor issues

Already, donor issues

Although the Clinton Foundation disclosure concerns kept only two senators from voting to confirm Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Ken Silverstein at Harper’s Magazine unearthed some of the backstory of foundation donor Gilbert Chagoury. According to the foundation’s disclosures, Chagoury is a $1-5 million donor and, according to Chagoury’s site, he’s a wealthy philanthropist and "the economic adviser to the West African country of Benin and as Saint Lucia’s ambassador to UNESCO."

The rest of what Silverstein unearthed is less flattering, and probably makes Chagoury the kind of donor that Sen. Richard Lugar was talking about when he criticized the foundation for accepting foreign donations and demanded stricter and more timely disclosure requirements.

But what we don’t learn is that Chagoury has been involved in a number of major international scandals, and that he was especially close to Nigerian General Sani 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, and allegedly offered Abacha help with his financial affairs.

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.

That’s not good. Silverstein, though, has more. Chagoury helped arrange a speaking engagement for Bill Clinton that netted Clinton $100,000 and attended both Bill Clinton’s 60th birthday party and Clinton aide Douglas Band’s wedding in France last year, making him look rather like a personal friend of at least Bill.

Like any good reporter, Silverstein followed up with the foundation to get more information on Chagoury, much like any reporter might do when researching a donor tied to some issue facing Hillary Clinton in her new role. What he found wasn’t promising.

My researcher Ellie Parkinson sent the Clinton Foundation an email a week ago. She asked for the exact date and amount of each of Chagoury’s contributions, and if the Clinton Foundation vetted donors. … She also asked about Chagoury’s personal friendship with President Clinton (and if it extended to Senator Clinton) and if accepting donations from such controversial sources raised potential conflict of interest issues if Senator Clinton is confirmed. The foundation initially suggested it would reply to the request for information, but since then has provided nothing.

That makes Lugar’s suggestions start to seem prescient already, and Clinton’s been Secretary for just over 24 hours.