Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times has a blockbuster story out today revealing that newly disclosed emails raise some important questions about links between Hillary Clinton’s State Department and the Clinton Foundation, a donor-backed nonprofit that her husband ran at the time.
That’s quite the headline and lead. So what’s the story?
Well, beneath the huffing and puffing, here it is:
- In March 2009, two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were arrested in North Korea.
- In June of that year, they were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.
- Around July 24-25, as a result of complex multisided negotiations, Bill Clinton agreed to travel to North Korea as a kind of official unofficial emissary who the Koreans could regard as a high-level envoy but who the Americans could say was simply a private citizen on a humanitarian mission.
- Bill Clinton, naturally, wanted to take some staff with him on the trip to Pyongyang.
- On July 27, Doug Band, a longtime aide to Bill Clinton who headed up an arm of the Clinton Foundation, emailed Huma Abedin asking if he and some other staffers could have diplomatic passports for the purposes of the trip.
- “The State Department never issued the passport,” according to Lichtblau, because “only department employees and others with diplomatic status are eligible for the special passports, which help envoys facilitate travel.”
It’s common at this point in the Clinton Foundation pseudo-scandal cycle for the person in my position to point out that there’s no quid pro quo and no evidence of wrongdoing, and then for the skeptics to say that corruption can take more insidious forms than a quid pro quo. But honestly, what questions does this raise?
It certainly doesn’t raise the question of whether Clinton Foundation staff got special access to passports from the State Department. It answers the question. They didn’t, as the story says.
Nor does this raise any questions about conflicts of interest with donors or use of foundation resources for private gain. Bill Clinton was doing a little statesman-like work. His staff hoped that, in light of his close personal ties to the secretary of state, he could do that work with official diplomatic credentials. They were told no.