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FLASHBACK: In 2009, John Kerry, Republicans Expressed Concern About Clinton Foundation’s Effect on Hillary’s Tenure at State

• April 30, 2015 2:31 pm

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Hillary Clinton may have "sailed" through her confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State in January 2009, but a look back now reveals prescient questions from senators about the Clinton Foundation and the influence foreign donors could have on her State Department tenure.

Clinton is now embroiled in a variety of scandalous accusations of pay-for-play during her State Department tenure. Foreign governments gave millions to the Clinton Foundation while she was in office, playing into the conflict of interest senators worried about back in 2009. Also, a new report Thursday from the Boston Globe revealed that another Clinton health charity failed to submit information on foreign donations to any state lawyers during her tenure.

Then-head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) acknowledged the potential conflicts of interest during a Senate floor speech on January 21, 2009.

"Transparency is critically important here, obviously, because it allows the American people, the media, and those of us here in Congress with an oversight responsibility to be able to judge for ourselves that no conflicts–real or apparent–exist,’’ Kerry said.

Kerry did assure that all donations to the Clinton Foundation would be made public. As it turned out, the Clinton Foundation failed to disclose 1,100 of its donors and broke a memorandum of understanding with the White House. Bloomberg reported:

The reason this is a politically explosive revelation is because the Clinton Foundation promised to disclose its donors as a condition of Hillary Clinton becoming secretary of state. Shortly after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, the Clinton Foundation signed a "memorandum of understanding" with the Obama White House agreeing to reveal its contributors every year. The agreement stipulates that the "Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative" (as the charity was then known) is part of the Clinton Foundation and must follow "the same protocols." 

It hasn't.

At Clinton's confirmation hearing, then-Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the Clinton Foundation "a unique complication that will have to be managed with great care and transparency."

"Foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the Secretary of State," he said. "[It] exists as a temptation for any foreign entity or government that believes it could curry favor through a donation. It also sets up potential perception problems with any action taken by the secretary of state in relation to foreign givers or their countries … The requirements for transparency in the memorandum of understanding should be considered a minimum standard."

Lugar added he was "hopeful the Clinton Foundation and the Obama administration will go further to ensure that the vital business of United States foreign policy upon which the security of our country rests is not encumbered by perceptions arising from donations to the foundation."

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) called back to Lugar's remarks and raised concerns about "even the appearance of a conflict of interest."

"I have the highest regard for Senator Lugar," he said. "I think the remarks–the pre-hearing questions he sent to you with regard to the Clinton Foundation–were very important, and I think his insights are very important because, in your answers to those questions, on a couple of occasions, you made the statement the goal was to protect against even the appearance of a conflict of interest between his work, meaning the foundation's, and the duties of secretary of state. And we all know that in this world of politics, perception becomes reality."

Sen. David Vitter (R., La.), the only dissenter in a 16-1 committee vote in favor of Clinton's nomination, expressed worry as well.

"Like a lot of folks, I have some concerns about these conflict issues, particularly with regard to the Clinton Foundation," he said.