Editorial: Hillary Clinton has more explaining to do

Published April 27, 2015

Mistakes were made. Paperwork errors. Out of our control. Those are among the excuses about the lack of transparency regarding wealthy foreign donors to the Clinton Foundation and potential conflicts of interest while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. It is another disturbing example where the end justifies the means for the Clintons, and the Democratic candidate for president is going to have to answer that criticism as her campaign moves forward.

The New York Times has described a complicated series of maneuvers in which Canadian mining interests created a partnership that has contributed about $25 million to the Clinton Foundation to fight poverty. Some of those key donors, including one who sits on the foundation's board, sold a uranium mining company to a Russian state-owned nuclear energy company that now controls substantial uranium supplies around the world — including in the United States. Those deals with the Russians required approval from the U.S. government, including the State Department, because of national security concerns. It is reasonable to question whether the Clinton Foundation was exploiting Hillary Clinton's position as secretary of state to bring in millions from foreign donors who would receive favorable treatment from the federal government.

So far, there is smoke but no fire. There is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and Clinton aides say she was not involved in the federal government's decision to approve the Canadian donors' uranium deal with the Russians. But the Canadian donations were not disclosed by the foundation even though Clinton agreed before she became secretary of state that all donations would be disclosed. And the foundation reported no foreign government donations in federal tax returns after 2009. Once again, the Clintons are asking voters to trust them even after they failed to be as transparent as promised.

Now the presidential candidate is playing defense. The foundation is reviewing its federal tax returns and claiming paperwork errors, and its acting chief executive on Sunday acknowledged mistakes. The foundation said the Canadian donors could be kept secret because of Canadian law and that their donations do not help cover general operating costs for the Clinton Foundation. But the web of contributions, lack of openness and failure to keep the pledge to disclose all donors illustrates how difficult it will be for Clinton to build a hard wall between the foundation and her presidential campaign.

This is the second time in two months that Clinton has faced serious questions about her disregard for transparency and failure to follow agreed-upon protocols. Last month it was the revelation that she used a secret private email account as secretary of state to conduct government business, and she acknowledged deleting thousands of emails she considered personal. Now it is the failure to disclose donations to the Clinton Foundation that she promised to voluntarily report when she became secretary of state. What will it be next month, and what will be the excuse?

The evolving narrative describes a political family too willing to play by their own rules, keep key information from the public and explain it away if it comes out. This is not the smoothest launching of a campaign for president, and Clinton will have to convince voters that there would be a different standard operating procedure in the White House if she is elected.