WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats sparred Sunday over whether Hillary Clinton crossed ethical lines during her tenure as secretary of state by talking with people outside the government who had contributed to her family’s philanthropy foundation.
Donna Brazile, the interim head of the Democratic National Committee, said it’s not unusual for supporters and activists to seek out private meetings and that there’s no evidence Clinton did any favors on behalf of foundation donors.
“When Republicans meet with their donors, with their supporters, they call it a meeting,” she told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” ”When Democrats do that, they call it a conflict. It’s not pay-to-play, unless somebody actually gave someone 50 cents to say, ‘I need a meeting.'”
GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence countered that because foreign donors can’t contribute to a presidential campaign, it’s possible they were seeking political leverage within the U.S. government by donating to the Clinton Foundation. He reiterated calls by Donald Trump’s campaign for the federal government to appoint a special prosecutor to examine possible corruption.
“This (foundation) becomes a conduit for people to gain access, and gaining access is a favor,” Pence told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The State Department has released all Clinton’s calendars and about half her detailed daily schedules as secretary of state, after The Associated Press sued for access in federal court.
Based on the records released so far, the AP found that more than half the people outside the government who met or spoke by telephone with Clinton during her tenure as a Cabinet secretary had given money — either personally or through companies or groups — to the Clinton Foundation. The AP’s analysis focused on people with private interests and excluded her meetings or calls with U.S. federal employees or foreign government representatives.
The government said Friday it probably won’t release the remainder of the detailed schedules until Dec. 30, weeks after the national election.
Clinton has said the AP’s analysis was flawed because it did not account fully for all meetings and phone calls during her entire term as secretary. She also said the analysis should have included meetings with federal employees and foreign diplomats. The AP said it focused on her meetings with outsiders because those were more discretionary, as Clinton would normally meet with federal officials and foreign officials as part of her job.
Her campaign also objected to an AP tweet that stated “more than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation” and linked to the analysis. The tweet didn’t note what was in the story: that the records only covered part of her tenure and excluded meetings or calls with federal employees or foreign government representatives.
AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll told CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday that the tweet was “sloppy” and “could have used some more precision.” But she said the story linked to the tweet was “completely rock solid.”
“I think the issue about conflict with interest is not whether there’s an actual quid pro quo, it’s the proximity,” she said. “It’s the impression that people have of maybe they got the meeting because they donated, maybe they didn’t.”
She added: “All of us can’t be held responsible for the way that everybody thinks about and responds to and talks about the coverage. Our responsibility is just to give them fair and balanced, rock-solid reporting and let them agree with it, disagree with it, talk about it, think what they might about it.”
Clinton said Friday she would take “additional steps” to ensure there wasn’t a conflict of interest with the foundation if she is elected president. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had already said the foundation would no longer accept foreign or corporate donations and that he would no longer raise money for the organization if she became president. The Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, would remain on the foundation’s board.