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Clinton Tries To Quell Criticism With Promised Change To Foundation Rules


And now for another political story in the news this week - on Thursday, President Bill Clinton announced that the Clinton Foundation would no longer accept foreign and corporate contributions if Hillary Clinton wins in November. Critics have long said that the overseas donations to the foundation amount to influence-peddling and wooing of a potential president.

We called Katy O'Donnell, who's been covering the story for Politico. I started by asking her to walk me through the latest batch of emails that have surfaced from Hillary Clinton's private server that show top Clinton aides from her tenure as secretary of state responding to requests for meetings with foundation donors.

KATY O'DONNELL: So this is coming from the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which brought a lawsuit against the State Department over various transparency issues, but they got these emails in court, I think, at the end of last month. Fourty-four of the emails in the latest cache that they released were related to Clinton and had not been turned over.

The emails that are raising questions about the foundation are, you know, an email from a foundation official seeking access for this major donor. And then there are a few recommendations for jobs. But it's that kind of special access given to somebody who gave a lot of money that raises questions and presents problems for ethicists.

CHIDEYA: So before becoming secretary of state in 2009, Hillary Clinton agreed to separate her activities at the State Department from those at the Clinton Foundation. Why has this issue resurfaced now?

O'DONNELL: Well, first of all, the agreement that they signed in 2009, I mean, you know, is very specific. And there's - it's not clear that the actual agreement has been broken in a legal sense, but there have been lapses. So when they said that they would disclose all of their donors, for instance, that actually didn't happen. So given that she did promise this firewall the last time that she went into government, and the firewall proved to be sort of permeable, there are many concerns that their promises for more transparency, etc. should she become president would not really hold up.

CHIDEYA: Now, Bill Clinton has said that he would resign from the board of the Clinton Foundation if his wife is elected president. And he said he would stop giving paid speeches as well. And that's been, according to tax disclosures, the biggest source of income for the couple. Is the biggest challenge the Clintons face one of perception or proof of ethical lapses?

O'DONNELL: It's a little bit of both. I think that it's a problem for them, and it's a problem for their critics because it's really difficult to prove that there was an intentional sort of selling of access or influence. That being said, it's also extremely difficult to prove that it didn't happen. And so the perception is a real problem, given that 29 of the 30 corporations on the Dow Industrial Index have given in some form to one of the various Clinton charity enterprises.

CHIDEYA: And how has the Trump campaign responded?

O'DONNELL: The Trump campaign has hit hard on the Clinton Foundation. He said - I think the line that he likes to use is that Hillary Clinton used the State Department as her own private hedge fund. He's very plainly said this is pay for play, which has long been an accusation dogging the Clintons. And I think even to the extent that you can kind of divine Trump's next plans from what happened this week, the fact that Paul Manafort stepped down - I mean, Paul Manafort had his own complicated foreign ties to Russian interests and pro-Russian Ukrainian interests. So the fact that he's no longer with the campaign in some ways allows Trump to kind of go after the foundation harder because it doesn't undercut the force of his argument anymore.

CHIDEYA: Katy O'Donnell is a reporter at Politico. Katy, thanks for joining us.

O'DONNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.