WASHINGTON — Bill Clinton was not paid for several speeches as reported in a forthcoming book about his family's foundation, spokespeople for the former president said Tuesday.
Clinton Cash, the hotly anticipated book by a conservative researcher out next week, investigates donations to the foundation and alleges a pattern of access or favor in exchange.
Following the January 2010 earthquake, the Clinton Foundation, working with the State Department, helped set up an international recovery effort in the Caribbean nation.
In the book, author Peter Schweizer suggests Clinton gave a series of speeches paid for by Irish businessman Dennis O'Brien apparently in return for his help in securing telecommunications contracts in Haiti as part of that recovery effort in 2010.
In the book's chapter on Haiti, dubbed "Disaster Capitalism Clinton-Style," which was obtained by BuzzFeed News, Schweizer writes that O'Brien, whose company Digicel was attempting to secure a contract for mobile phone service in Haiti, paid Clinton $600,000 for speeches in Ireland on Sept. 29, 2010, Oct. 8, 2011, and Oct. 9, 2013.
Schweizer argues "the timing of these paid speeches is notable" because they came during the contract awarding process — and goes on to note that starting in 2011 DIgicel began receiving contracts in Haiti that would total $2 million from USAID, the first time the company had received grants from the organization. Schweizer also cites a fourth speech in the book that he says occurred in October 2011 in Kingston, Jamaica, just weeks before Digicel received its first grant.
But according to Clinton spokesperson Matt McKenna, neither the former president nor the Clinton Foundation was paid for two of the three speeches Clinton gave in Ireland, and that while the Foundation did receive a donation following his Sept. 29, 2010 speech, Clinton himself was not compensated.
"The book's reporting is false. President Clinton did not personally receive speaking fees for any of these three speaking engagements in Ireland," McKenna said.
Additionally, the Kingston speech appears to have occurred in October 2010, not October 2011, a full year before Digicel's contract was awarded.
Schweizer's contention that Digicel had not received USAID grants prior to its involvement with Clinton also appears to be incorrect. According to federal records, Digicel received more than $29,000 in contracts from USAID in 2007 and 2008.
Multiple requests for comment sent to the publisher and to Schweizer were not returned.
The apparent discrepancies appear to be the first challenges to the validity of any reporting in Schweizer's book. Although the Clinton campaign and its allies have taken issue with conclusions drawn in the book since excerpts were provided to media outlets last week, this appears to be the first time the Clintons have challenged any factual elements.
The Clintons have faced scrutiny this year over the foundation's acceptance of foreign donations since the Wall Street Journal reported the foundation had quietly begun accepting them again after Hillary Clinton left the State Department, from countries that include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The foundation has since limited the foreign donations it will accept — but will not discontinue the practice.
The New York Times last week followed on reporting in Schweizer's book about the gradual takeover of a uranium mining company by Russian interests, as people associated or formerly associated with the company donated millions to the Clintons' foundation. The Russian acquisition was approved by a committee of U.S. cabinet officials, including Hillary Clinton, though there is no evidence the donations played a role in that decision.
Asked Sunday whether there was a "smoking gun" in his book, Schweizer said the smoking gun is the "pattern of behavior."
In a response to BuzzFeed News, Schweizer said that while Digicel had received previous USAID contracts, it’s charitable arm, the Digicel Foundation, did not receive USAID contracts until after the earthquake, and argued the basic premise of the book remains intact. In terms of the unpaid speeches, Schweizer appeared to acknowledge that the speech payments were incorrectly reported, by citing an ABC News report, which noted that the book at some point "conflated" paid and unpaid speeches, though he said the larger point stands. His full response:
The Clinton response to Clinton Cash’s reporting is inaccurate, as it mistakes grant receipts from Denis Obrien’s company, Digicel, for the charitable foundation connected to that company, the Digicel Foundation. The book notes that the Digicel Foundation had never received taxpayer money before December 2, 2011, when the first of what would amount to more than $2 million U.S. dollars made its way to O’Brien’s foundation. In its response, the Clinton spokesperson provided a link to a database showing taxes went to the company Digicel in 2007 and 2008, apparently for cell phone use by federal employees in countries Digicel provides service. This in no way refutes the claim made in the book.
We are, however, sympathetic to the Clinton spokesperson’s confusion in sorting through the tangle of relationships and dealings between former President Bill Clinton, the U.S. government, and billionaire Denis O’Brien can be.
As ABC News reported in its investigation of the facts presented in the book, though “paid and unpaid speaking appearances were conflated,” ABC’s investigation concluded that “those same records supported the premise that former President Clinton accepted speaking fees from numerous companies and individuals with interests pending before the State Department."
The Digicel Foundation’s sponsorship of Clinton’s Jamaica speech occurred in 2010. As ABC News reported, the fact pattern and timeline of events remain troubling:
“In October 2010, for instance, Clinton accepted $225,000 to give a speech in Jamaica sponsored in part by the Irish telecom firm Digicel. Just weeks earlier, Digicel had submitted an application to USAID, an agency overseen by the State Department, for millions of dollars in grant money to fund a mobile-phone money transfer service in Haiti. Two months after the speech, Digicel received the first installment of grant money. The company’s chairman, Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien, was also a major contributor to the Clintons' charitable enterprises.”
The facts remain that O’Brien and connected entities paid Bill Clinton for multiple speeches and donated to the Clinton Foundation during the time Clinton was leading the Haitian recovery effort— and Digicel received millions in awards from a program run through USAID. The result, as other news outlets have reported, is that Digicel’s profits soared, and Haiti became its most profitable market.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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