Former President Bill Clinton‘s globe-trotting business deals and fundraising for his foundation sometimes put his activities abroad at odds with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and could cause complications if President-elect Barack Obama picks her to be secretary of state.
During her own White House campaign, the New York senator criticized China for its crackdown on protesters in Tibet and urged President George W. Bush to skip the Olympics in Beijing. Her campaign was embarrassed by reports that her husband’s foundation had raised money from a Chinese Internet company that posted an online government “Most Wanted” notice seeking information on Tibetan human-rights activists that may have been involved in the demonstrations.
Hillary Clinton has campaigned as a champion of workers’ rights. This year, Brazilian labor inspectors found what they called “degrading” living conditions for sugar cane workers employed by an ethanol company in which Bill Clinton invested.
In the Senate, Clinton was an outspoken critic of a proposed deal under which a Dubai company planned to buy a British business that helped run six major U.S. ports. The company, DP World, privately sought Bill Clinton’s advice about how to respond to the controversy over the port plan, which later was abandoned.
Obama met with Hillary Clinton on Thursday at his headquarters in Chicago, and some Democrats were enthusiastic amid speculation the pair discussed the job of secretary of state. She declined Friday to say anything about the matter, and Obama is understood to be considering other candidates as his top diplomat, including Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
Bill Clinton’s fundraising for his presidential library and charitable activities also could pose additional headaches for his wife if he selects her for the job.
Since leaving the White House in early 2001, Bill Clinton has raised at least $353 million for the William J. Clinton Foundation, which finances his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., as well as his global anti-AIDS initiative and other charitable efforts.
The former president has raised money overseas beyond the Chinese Internet company’s contributions: from the Saudi royal family, the king of Morocco, a foundation linked to the United Arab Emirates and the governments of Kuwait and Qatar, The New York Times reported last year.
His foundation reaped millions of dollars from Canadian mining tycoon Frank Giustra, and Clinton accompanied Giustra on a 2005 trip to Kazakhstan, whose human-rights record Hillary Clinton had criticized, the newspaper reported. The pair met with Kazakhstan’s president, and within days Giustra’s company landed preliminary agreements giving it rights to buy into uranium projects controlled by a Kazakhstan state-owned enterprise. Clinton said he had nothing to do with the deal.
Louis Freeh, the FBI director under the former president, said Clinton sought a library donation from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah during a discussion of the investigation into the deadly 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers U.S. military dormitory in Saudi Arabia.
Freeh wrote in his book “My FBI” that the FBI was trying to get Abdullah to let the FBI question suspects the Saudi kingdom had in custody and that Clinton failed to pressure Abdullah.
Clinton denied Freeh’s account, and has said his business dealings and foundation fundraising pose no political conflicts for his wife. The former president has so far refused to identify donors to his foundation.
Matt McKenna, a spokesman for the former president, declined to comment on any potential difficulties that Clinton’s activities could pose for his wife should she become secretary of state or whether the former president would alter any of his fundraising or other activities to avoid potential conflicts.
The Clintons have taken in more than $100 million since leaving the White House, thanks in large part to six-figure speaking fees charged by the former president and to his book royalties and partnership with Yucaipa Global Opportunities Fund, a Los Angeles-based investment firm founded by a longtime Clinton fundraiser.
Bill Clinton has cultivated the image of a senior statesman since leaving the White House and often makes speeches abroad. That role could be diminished if his wife were representing the Obama administration on international issues.
In a 6,400-word speech in London in March 2006, the former president laid out his views on a variety of world issues, including the Middle East peace process. Buried in the lengthy address were a few lines that could make a White House press office rush for damage control.
“The Palestinians are younger and poorer today than they were when we started the peace process in 1993,” he said. “And I have never met a single poor Palestinian anywhere in the world except in the Palestinian territories. Every single Palestinian I know in America is a millionaire or a college professor, and I say that with deep respect, but when there is a conflict, when there is an absence of security, there is always an absence of opportunity.”