Vetting [Bill] Clinton

The talk concerning the possibility that Hillary Clinton will be named secretary of state now centers on her husband and his work.

By Alex Koppelman

Published November 17, 2008 4:21PM (EST)

The rumor about Hillary Clinton as a contender to be secretary of state remains hot, but now the discussion has turned to the biggest obstacle in her path: Her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton's post-presidential work could pose some potential conflicts for his wife if she were to be named to the post. In an article published on Monday, the New York Times reported:

A team of lawyers trying to facilitate the potential nomination spent the weekend looking into Mr. Clinton’s philanthropic organization, interactions with foreign governments and ties to pharmaceutical companies, a Democrat close to both camps said. While Mr. Clinton has used his foundation to champion efforts to fight AIDS, poverty and climate change around the world, he has also taken millions in speaking fees and contributions from foreign officials and businesses with interests in American governmental policies.

Obama advisers are discussing what Mr. Clinton would need to do to avoid a conflict of interest with the duties of his wife, who is said to be interested in the post. “That’s the first and most important hurdle,” said a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “He does good work. No one wants it to stop, but a structure to avoid conflicts must be thought of.”

Similarly, Politico's Glenn Thrush and Mike Allen write, "Obama isn’t likely to formally offer the post to Clinton unless he’s given assurances Bill Clinton’s global charitable foundation won’t create future conflicts of interest with foreign governments... Obama’s vetting team expressed similar worries about Bill Clinton’s overseas fundraising when Hillary Clinton was briefly considered for the vice-presidency, former Clinton aides say."

The Times didn't have much detail regarding whether the Clintons were cooperating with the vetting process, but has one source who sounds optimistic. Thrush and Allen, however, quote one anonymous "well-connected Democratic official" as saying:

The ball is very much in her court, but the president's finances have been a major point of sensitivity from day one. Given that everyone's mystified by how deliberately public the Clintons have made this once secret process, the assumption is either that the Clintons are trying to use the public buzz to steamroll their way in, create a sense of inevitability that overcomes those concerns, or that it's just a matter of time before they … satisfy vetting somehow, some way."

Related to that is one still very open question -- would she even want to be secretary of state? Ben Smith reports that "Clinton herself is conflicted about taking the job."

By the way, all of the stories out about this today contradict the Huffington Post's earlier report, which I wrote about on Friday, that Barack Obama offered Clinton the job during their meeting on Thursday.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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