Poor Bill Clinton. These days, he must be thinking: You can’t win for losing. After leaving the White House, he didn’t just fold his tent. He created one of the world’s most powerful global organizations, raised hundreds of millions of dollars, and helped millions of people worldwide doing more good than any former president since Jimmy Carter, and maybe ever.Yet now he and his wife are under attack for their good works, accused by Donald Trump of “pay for play”: using the Clinton Foundation as a way of extorting money from wealthy donors in return for government favors from the secretary of state.In classic Trumpian terms, the GOP nominee asserts: “It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins. It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office.” The only answer, according to Trump, is the appointment of a Ken Starr-like special prosecutor.Now, you must agree that it’s ironic, if not hypocritical, for Donald Trump to be leading the charge against the Clinton Foundation. After all, he once gave it $100,000, so he must have thought it was doing something worthwhile. And it wasn’t so long ago that Trump actually bragged about engaging in “pay to play” himself, acknowledging that he’d made many campaign contributions to politicians, including Hillary Clinton, because he might someday want a favor from them.Trump’s newfound outrage over the Clinton Foundation was sparked by an Associated Press article headlined “Many Donors to Clinton Foundation Met with Her at State.” In its review of the first two years of her tenure as secretary of state (the only two years for which her calendar has been released), the AP found: “More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money either personally or through companies or groups to the Clinton Foundation.”Sounds a lot more serious than it is, so what’s the truth about the Clinton Foundation and the secretary of state? Three important points:First, Trump’s wrong about three things. The Clinton Foundation is not a “business.” It’s a nonprofit foundation. Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton has taken one dime in salary from the foundation. They didn’t create it to enrich themselves, but to enrich the lives of others. And there’s no need for a special prosecutor because holding meetings, in business or politics, no matter who sets them up, is hardly against the law.Second, we’re actually talking about relatively few meetings. Again, according to AP, in her first two years, Secretary Clinton met with a total of 154 individuals who did not work for the U.S. or any foreign government of whom 85 had made contributions to the foundation. But even they represent only a small fraction of all the people she met with during that period. And there’s no evidence not one case that AP or anybody else can point to that any of them received special treatment from the State Department or the Obama administration.Third, nobody can deny that the Clinton Foundation has done a world of good, especially in the field of health care providing direct help, according to the foundation’s website, to some 430 million people in 180 countries. And, unlike Donald Trump’s tax returns, the foundation’s donor list and financial records are routinely made public.Nevertheless, the question of special meetings arranged with the secretary of state for Clinton Foundation donors does pose a problem of perception: the perception that there was a culture of “pay for play” between Bill’s organization and Hillary’s office and the perception that once again, the Clintons live by their own set of rules.But that’s past history. The big question is: What happens now? The answer, I believe, is clear. There’s no way any shadow of a conflict of interest should be allowed to hang over the Hillary Clinton White House. Once she’s elected president, the Clinton Foundation must shut down. Period.Yes, that will create a lot of hardship for a lot of people. Other organizations the Red Cross, the Carter Center, the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation might pick up some of the Clinton Foundation’s charity work, though not all. But that’s the price Bill Clinton must pay for seeing his wife become the 45th president of the United States. And, in the end, it’s a price worth paying.Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show, CNN political analyst and author.
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