These columns have long believed that a President deserves the cabinet members he wants, barring some major dereliction. So if Barack Obama wants to make Hillary and Bill Clinton part of his governing team, that's his business. We can only hope he understands the Clinton family business he's taking on.
Take Mr. Clinton's post-Presidential fund-raising, the scope of which he finally disclosed in late December after years of refusing and under pressure from the Obama transition. Amid the holidays and economic news, this window on the Clinton political method has received less attention than it deserves. Here is the spectacle of a former President circling the globe to raise at least $492 million over 10 years for his foundation -- much of it from assorted rogues, dictators and favor-seekers. We are supposed to believe that none of this -- and none of his future fund-raising -- will have any influence on Mrs. Clinton's conduct as Secretary of State.
The silence over this is itself remarkable. When Henry Kissinger was invited merely to co-chair the 9/11 Commission, the political left went bonkers about his foreign clients. In this case we have a Secretary of State nominee whose husband may have raised more than $60 million from various Middle East grandees, and Washington reacts with a yawn. Maybe someone will even ask about it at her nomination hearing today.
A Senator should ask, because this has the potential to complicate life for the new President. All the more so because under terms of his agreement with Mr. Obama, Mr. Clinton will be able to keep raising foreign cash as long as the donors send the checks to a Clinton entity other than the "Clinton Global Initiative." Instead of being immediately disclosed, future donations will only be made public once a year and the exact amounts and dates of previous donations will never be made public.
While Mr. Clinton will submit some donations from foreign governments to Administration scrutiny, he need only do so if the donations are new or are of a significantly larger magnitude from a previous donation. In other words, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman can keep giving millions without U.S. government review even while Mrs. Clinton is America's chief diplomat. These disclosure limitations suggest that the Clintons seriously out-negotiated Team Obama. We hope the President-elect does better with Iran.
As for potential embarrassment, consider the "up to $5 million" in donations to the Clinton foundation from Gilbert Chagoury, known for his ties to Nigeria's former military dictator, General Sani Abacha. The Journal's John Emshwiller recently noted that unfortunately for Mr. Chagoury, after Abacha died in 1998, "Swiss and other European authorities froze a number of bank accounts, including some related to Mr. Chagoury, as part of an investigation by the Nigerian government and others about whether billions of dollars had been improperly taken out of the country during the Abacha regime, according to news reports and a 2001 British court decision in Abacha-related litigation. Mr. Chagoury later agreed to return funds, estimated to be as much as $300 million, to the Nigerian government in exchange for indemnity from possible charges and to unfreeze his accounts, according to the British court decision."
Another notable donor -- also up to $5 million -- is Viktor Pinchuk, son-in-law of former Ukraine president Leonid Kuchma. Mr. Pinchuk was mentioned in a 2005 Journal story headlined, "Haunted By Suspect Deals Of Old Regime." Suspect indeed. The "privatization" of the country's largest steel plant in a sale to a group including Mr. Pinchuk was later overturned after the country held a democratic election.
And only this month, the New York Times reported that New York developer Robert Congel gave $100,000 to the Clinton foundation in November, 2004, one month after the enactment of a law that gave Mr. Congel access to tax-exempt "green bonds" to build a shopping mall in Syracuse. Mrs. Clinton had supported the law, and within a year of the donation she secured $5 million in taxpayer funds for the complex.
It'd be nice to think Mr. Clinton would forswear this money-hustle while his wife is Secretary of State, but that self-sacrifice would belie his entire career. As for Mrs. Clinton, note the scrutiny that Eric Holder, Mr. Obama's Attorney General nominee, is coming under for his role in aiding pardons for 16 unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorists in 1999. But keep in mind the timing of those pardons was intended to help Mrs. Clinton win Puerto Rican support in her 2000 Senate campaign. Someone should ask her at today's hearing about the role she played in that pardon.
In signing up the Clintons -- always two for the price of one -- Mr. Obama is no doubt hoping to unite his party and mute Democratic criticism when mistakes happen. He is also hiring someone whose prominence and allies make her impossible to fire, even as she and her husband have a history of cutting ethical corners. Good luck.