By Richard Pollock, DCNF
A total of 205 Clinton Foundation donors whose corporations and foundations collectively contributed $216 million since 2009, were awarded the most coveted invitations in the nation’s capital: prestigious seats at one or more White House State Dinners, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation.
At least 15 of the Clinton Foundation’s corporate donors — representing $47 million in contributions — were able to win invitations to two or more official state dinners.
Significantly, the decision makers who authorized the special invitations were not at the White House at all, but were ensconced in the Department State’s Office of Protocol. The protocol office, chosen by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are filled solely with long-time Clinton loyalists.
Despite the Democratic presidential nominee’s departure from the Department of State in 2013, all of the top officeholders in the protocol office throughout Obama’s two terms have been senior staffers who served in either former President Bill Clinton’s White House or in Hillary’s Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns.
Critics of the foundation worry Dennis Cheng — who served as Clinton’s protocol deputy chief and later went directly to the Clinton Foundation as its chief fundraiser — could have “walked away” with valuable donor lists compiled by the office.
After Cheng left the Department of State, he raised a record quarter billion dollars while at the foundation. He is now Hillary’s national fundraiser, leading her presidential bid to raise $2 billion. As a result, The Daily Beast once called him, “Hillary Clinton’s $2 billion money man.”
If Cheng shared confidential information with the foundation, he may have violated a special “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) signed by the foundation and the Obama transition team in November 2008. The MOU warned of avoiding “potential or actual conflict of interest.”
Cheng also could run afoul of a 18 USC 208, a federal statute that “prohibits an executive branch employee from participating personally and substantially in a particular Government matter that will affect his own financial interests,” including those of a prospective employer or a family member.
“How much of the mailing list and contact information Cheng got at Protocol, migrated over to the Clinton Foundation,” asked Charles Ortel a Wall Street investor and an outspoken critic of the Clinton Foundation.
“We don’t yet how much of this extraordinarily valuable contact information as it walked out the front door either in Dennis Cheng’s personal cell phone, or on a contact list that might have been emailed.” he said in an interview with TheDCNF.
Neither the foundation nor Hillary’s presidential campaign responded to inquiries about potential conflicts of interest surrounding Cheng.
Bill boasted in a Tuesday CNN interview that foundation donors never benefited from any Department of State action, asserting, “to the best of my knowledge, nobody ever got anything from the State Department because they supported the Clinton Foundation.”
Yet, official White House dinners are among the most glamorous and exclusive venues in Washington, D.C., and the competition to secure an invitation is fierce.
Guests not only can mingle with a head of state and their closest advisors, but they also offer privileged access to the president, top White House staff and many cabinet members.
Former U.S. Attorney Joseph DiGenova, who prosecuted corruption cases in Washington, D.C., told TheDCNF the White House dinners weren’t only benefits, but amounted to the “selling of access.”
“The obvious connection between donations and access to big, White House state dinners is very important,” he said in an interview with TheDCNF. “It was clearly a reward to donors, something they got as a result of giving money to the Clinton Foundation,” he stated. DiGenova was U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and was appointed an Independent Counsel concerning the Clinton passport disclosure case.
“We are looking into Cheng’s relationship between the State Department and the foundation and the political donor class,” former U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker told TheDCNF. Whitaker is the executive director of the ethics watchdog group, the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust (FACT).
“Cheng is the person in the middle of this situation. He had substantial input as to who was invited, who got seated where,” he said.
“I would say Cheng’s a key figure — really a shadowy figure — in this whole thing,” Whitaker added.
“It’s very obvious to me that people were giving to the foundation, not only because they perceived they could get access to the State Department, but it now appears they were giving in order to get access to State Dinners at the White House,” he told TheDCNF.
FACT has been trying to obtain the email traffic between Cheng and the Clinton Foundation under the Freedom of Information Act. The group initially filed an FOIA request in February 2015, but Department of State officials are refusing to release any of the emails before the presidential election.
“They have been stonewalling us and not responsive and now they’re telling us that we probably won’t get it until mid-to-late November,” Whitaker said. He served as the US Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 2004-2009.
The protocol office has been stacked from the very beginning with Clinton veterans. When Cheng served as deputy chief of the protocol office, his boss was Chief Capricia Marshall who, at age 32, served as the White House social secretary for Hillary when Bill was president.
After Cheng left in 2011, his replacement was Natalie Jones, who was Hillary’s Mid-Atlantic finance director for her 2008 presidential bid. Jones was joined by Mark Walsh, Hillary’s LGBT “outreach director” from her 2008 campaign.
Peter Selfridge succeeded Marshall in June 2014 as the chief of protocol and is the current head of the office. He served in the scheduling and advance office at former President Bill Clinton’s White House.
One of the most revealing illustration of Cheng’s continuing contact with the the protocol office after he joined the Clinton Foundation is in email exchanges.
In a March 8, 2012 email from Marshall to Jones, Cheng and Hillary’s deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin, the chief happily identifies foundation donors who were to attend the March 14, 2012 state dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“Invited to state dinner,” Marshall informed the group.
Two of those invited included Clinton Democratic fundraiser Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who gave between $100,000 to $250,000, and Fred Eychaner, who committed $25 million to the foundation.
“Nice,” replies Abedin.
Although the 2008 MOU explicitly sought to build a wall between the foundation and Clinton’s official business, Cheng felt it was appropriate to later invite Abedin to a Clinton Foundation dinner that included foreign nationals.
In a June 11, 2012 email, he urges Abedin to come to Little Rock for the dinner. “Attached is list of attendees for tomorrow night’s Clinton Foundation dinner,” he wrote Abedin.
Among those attending was Recep Ozkan, a Turkish national who donated between $500,000 to $1 million to the Clinton Foundation.
Ozkan was the liaison for Fethullah Gulen, a secretive Turkish cleric who allegedly was behind the failed July 15 coup attempt against the Turkish government of President Recep Erdogan.
Erdogan filed papers with the U.S. government seeking the extradition of Gulen, according to Tuesday reports.
Also attending the dinner was Victor Pinchuk, the Ukrainian tycoon who married the daughter of Ukrainian strongman Leonid Kuchma, who was considered a corrupt leader during his years in office.
The email was obtained by Citizens United, a conservative group, under the Freedom of Information Act.
One of the most notorious Clinton Foundation donors to attend a White House dinner was Rajat Gupta, a long-time personal friend of Bill’s who was convicted of insider trading. He served two years in a federal penitentiary.
Gupta was the first foreign-born managing director at McKinsey & Company and reportedly hired Chelsea Clinton for her first job. Without any experience, he paid her a six figure salary. Gupta attended the dinner for the Indian Prime Minister in 2009.
Ortel claims the pattern of awarding government perks to donors began in the 1990s during Bill’s first term at the White House. At the time, Clinton and his aides rented out the Lincoln Bedroom to 66 campaign contributors and offered seats on Air Force One to 56 contributors.
“To see the pattern, you really have to go back to when they were in control of the White House, the first time and they clearly demonstrated the propensity to rent out the Lincoln bedroom, to sell seats on Air Force One,” Ortel told TheDCNF. “So this was an old game.”
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican congresswoman who is vice-chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and leading a congressional investigation into the Clinton Foundation, told TheDCNF, “This is further evidence of the Clinton’s ‘Pay to Play’ mentality. The State Dinners provide incredible opportunities to meet our government’s highest ranking officials and Clinton Foundation donors were able to get special access simply because they stroked a check.”
“The quid pro quo is astonishing and it begs the question of whether the Clintons are beneath selling anything,” Blackburn charged.
In addition to the donations paid outright to the Clinton Foundation, a number of corporate donors also paid Bill and Hillary high six-figure speaking fees.
Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’ chairman and CEO, attended one of the hottest state dinners — a January 19, 2011 White House State Dinner for former Chinese President Hu Jintao.
His company donated $1 to $5 million to the foundation, and its Goldman Philanthropy Fund gave an additional $250,000 to $500,000, according to the Clinton Foundation website.
But that wasn’t the only contributions to Bill and Hillary. The company also gave the couple $2.25 million for 12 speeches before Goldman Sachs venues.
Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s CEO and chairman, attended the May 19, 2010 state dinner toasting Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s former president.
The Bank of America Foundation donated between $500,000 to $1 million to the Clinton Foundation, and the Bank of America Corporation contributed between $100,000 to $250,000.
But Bank of America also paid more than $1 million for four speeches to both Bill and Hillary.
The Clinton Foundation donors invited to more than one state dinner were: Honeywell, GE, Dreamworks, PepsiCo, Morgan Stanley, Coca Cola, Dow, Boeing, Intel, UPS, Comcast, IBM and the Blackstone Group. Microsoft and the Ford Foundation were invited to three state dinners.
J.T. Mastranadi, political director of the Citizens United, said his organization’s conclusion was, “regardless of where you happened to be employed at any given time – the Clinton State Department or the Clinton Foundation – the top priority was always donor maintenance.”
TheDCNF contacted the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s presidential campaign about a wide range of questions regarding the state dinners and the foundation. Neither responded.
To see the full list of Clinton Foundation Donor attendees to all 12 White House State Dinners, click here.
Interns David Simmons and Justin Caruso contributed to this report.
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