Top aides to Hillary Clinton coordinated with the State Department to answer questions about the Clinton Foundation, according to recently released hacked emails.
Prior to announcing her candidacy, Clinton faced questions about a $500,000 donation to her family's foundation from Algeria, which violated her agreement with the Obama administration that the Clinton Foundation would not accept new foreign donations while she was secretary of state.
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Following a report in the Washington Post that the foundation raked in millions from foreign governments while Clinton was at the State Department, Clinton's team discussed over email how to address questions about the Algeria donation from other outlets.
"All – not surprisingly, we've received a number of follow up questions asking for confirmation of the Algeria donation," Clinton Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian wrote on Feb. 26, 2015. "We could let it sit or confirm for other outlets with the following draft statement."
The statement, which was later modified and given to CNN, made the case that the Algeria donation was entirely spent to aid Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.
Bruce Lindsey, Bill Clinton's longtime lawyer and chairman of the board of the Clinton Foundation, suggested using the same statement Minassian gave to the Washington Post, which was a general statement that did not address the Algeria donation directly.
"Why wouldn't we tell others what we told the Washington Post," he said. "At least that way they won't have to cite the Post as their source."
Minassian replied saying the statement would be a modified.
Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, suggested that Nick Merrill and Philippe Reines coordinate with the State Department on responses to the Algeria question.
"[I] am good with that approach (nick/pir – you may want to reach out to [Department of State] DOS in am so they aren't surprised and have the context so if asked at the podium they are prepared," Mills wrote.
Merrill, who would later serve as Clinton's campaign press secretary, said he sent the State Department a brief on the issue and was trying to talk over the phone with the agency's press team.
"Craig and I just sent them a note explaining in a brief and offered to get on the phone," he said.
"[G]ood copy," Mills responded.
"Thanks, all," said Tina Flournoy, Bill Clinton's chief of staff.
Then-State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked about the donation the next day. Psaki's answer was consistent with the Foundation's, and she said the State Department was not concerned about Clinton breaking her agreement with the Obama administration.
Psaki was asked if there was "any hesitation by the Department of State that this was proper business for the top diplomat to conduct here?"
"Well, I think according to the Washington Post article that you referenced and a statement, I believe, that was put out by the Clinton Foundation, they said they received a contribution from the Government of Algeria for Haiti relief efforts soon after the Haiti earthquake devastated that country, which it should have submitted for review by the Department," Psaki said. "At the time, as you all may remember, the United States was, of course—the government was supporting worldwide efforts to provide humanitarian relief for Haiti. The commitment by the foundation to provide information about foreign government contributions, broadly, went beyond the requirements of ethics law and regulations. And the purpose is to allow, of course, the Department to identify foreign policy concerns that might arise in connection with a particular donation."
"So obviously, we like to review and we have reviewed every donation that has been submitted," Psaki said. "But in this case, the fact that the process has—was not followed in this particular incident does not raise concerns with us."
Psaki stuck to the script when pressed further about the appearance of "impropriety" and "pay-for-play."
"Well, I think the question there is we’re talking about a contribution to a Haiti relief fund that was an international crisis that the United States broadly supported," she said. "So I’m not sure, and maybe you can share more with us, about what exactly the conflict of interest would have been there."
The emails were posted online by Wikileaks. The U.S. director of national intelligence and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security have accused "Russia’s senior-most officials" of hacking and leaking emails to Wikileaks and other sites in order to influence the 2016 election.