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State Department Emails Raise Possible Links To Clinton Foundation


Since the political conventions, the presidential campaign has been dominated by controversies involving Donald Trump. The latest example - his comments yesterday about Hillary Clinton and, quote, "Second Amendment people" stopping her from picking Supreme Court justices.


But Clinton is also dealing with her own controversy that just won't go away. Yesterday a new batch of emails came out that raises questions about the relationship between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department under Hillary Clinton. Reporter Eric Lichtblau covers this for The New York Times. He told me these emails were released by the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch.

ERIC LICHTBLAU: These were additional email which had never seen the light of day before, and the State Department just gave them to Judicial Watch as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that they had filed years ago. And now there is another set of 44 emails, about 300 pages in all that the Judicial Watch people got their hands on.

CORNISH: And in this batch, I want to dig in a little bit more. One of the emails involved the Clinton Foundation and an attempt by one of their donors to reach out to a State Department diplomat for Lebanon. Tease out more. What happened there?

LICHTBLAU: Right. Well, this was a Nigerian gentleman who had been a big benefactor to the Clinton Foundation, had pledged upwards of a billion dollars to the Clinton Global Initiative. His name was Chagoury, and he was interested in Lebanese issues. He's also of Lebanese descent. And so a Clinton adviser who was involved in the foundation, a man by the name of Doug Band, had emailed with some urgency to Hillary's people at the State Department to try and arrange a conversation between the donor and a Lebanese expert for the State Department.

And so you know, it was the kind of access that obviously an ordinary person off the street would not get. The email didn't specifically say, hey, this guy's given a billion dollars. There's no - no, there's no smoking gun here saying this is, like, a - you paying for access, but these are all things that sort of raise questions about this relationship, who got access, who got favors and how the foundation and the State Department worked together.

And the key thing to note here is that when Hillary was confirmed as secretary of state in 2009, she made a pledge, an official pledge that she would no longer be involved in the business of the foundation. She would essentially recuse herself from that.

The assertion that the people at Judicial Watch, who, again, got these emails, are making is that this shows that at a minimum, her people, her top advisers seem to have kept this chain of communication open and that there were discussions about favors and access and influence.

CORNISH: How does the Clinton campaign explain these emails more broadly?

LICHTBLAU: Well, they haven't directly refuted the plain meaning of the emails I guess I would say. They've indicated that these aren't what they seem, that in fact the people who were having these discussions weren't talking on behalf of the foundation but were former Clinton staffers. It becomes a little difficult to figure out who's wearing what hat.

Doug Band, for instance, who I mentioned, wears many different hats in the Clinton organization. He is a personal assistant to Bill Clinton. He ran a consulting company that paid Bill Clinton a lot of money until 2012. He is also the head of Clinton's Global Initiative which gets together muckety mucks from all over the world for big charity events, and he's with the Clinton Foundation. So to figure out at any one time which hat someone like Doug Band is wearing when he communicates with aides to Hillary Clinton is a bit of a puzzle.

CORNISH: You said earlier you don't see a smoking gun here when it comes to influence peddling, but does it indicate a level of coziness between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department under Clinton?

LICHTBLAU: I think that several of these emails - there are about 44 emails altogether that had not come out previously. Several of them do show certainly a coziness, just this open line of communication between people inside the State Department, aides to Hillary Clinton and people on the outside with the Clinton Foundation - this open pipeline where the interests of donors and State Department people often overlap, yes.

CORNISH: Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times, thanks so much.

LICHTBLAU: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: And in a statement to news organizations, the Clinton campaign said the emails referenced here do not, quote, "involve the secretary or relate to the foundation's work." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.