Politico | 22 April 2015
Book alleges donor cash influenced Hillary’s stance on Colombia trade deal
Clinton’s camp rejects the claims by conservative author Peter Schweizer.
By Annie Karni and John Bresnahan
Hillary Clinton’s role as secretary of state had a direct impact on the business interests of Canadian mogul Frank Giustra, a “friend of Bill” and major donor to the Clinton Foundation who benefited from her support of a 2011 free trade agreement, a much-anticipated new book alleges.
The book, “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Help Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” by conservative author Peter Schweizer, has emerged as a major flash point in the early days of Hillary Clinton’s quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Set for publication May 5, the book has been promoted as a potentially explosive examination of the money ties between the Clintons’ personal finances, the family’s $2 billion global foundation and her years as head of the State Department. The Clinton campaign circulated a memo to its surrogates and allies on Tuesday night that details potential talking points and responses.
A chapter obtained by POLITICO zeroes in on the Clintons’ relationship with Giustra — who has pledged over $100 million to the foundation — as it related to his Colombian business interests dating back to 2005.
While stopping short of a direct accusation, the chapter, entitled “Rainforest Riches,” implies there was a blurred line between Bill Clinton’s charity work and Hillary Clinton’s work at the State Department — ultimately leading to her support of the trade deal. But Schweizer presents little evidence that Clinton’s support of the trade deal was directly linked to Guistra’s contributions or to his close relationship with Bill Clinton.
Clinton’s campaign is already forcefully pushing back on the idea that the former secretary of state’s support for the trade agreement was anything other than in line with the administration’s position. “Her support for the deal came only after she joined the Obama administration, when key worker protections were added to the package,” spokesman Brian Fallon said. “By that point, the agreement was an administration-wide priority, and then-Secretary Clinton’s statements in support of the deal reflected the administration’s position.”
He said that “in a book full of partisan conspiracy theories, this is among the most laughable. The author conveniently forgets to explain why, if Hillary Clinton was seeking to assist people who donated to the Clinton Foundation in 2006 and 2007, she opposed the free trade deal so vocally throughout 2008.”
Multiple emails to Christy Louth, who serves as communications director for the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, were not returned. Giustra, along with the former president, co-founded the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which brings together nonprofit and for-profit companies to create economic development in underserved communities. Projects are focused in Latin America and the Caribbean. Giustra also sits on the board of the Clinton Foundation.
According to Schweizer’s account, “the story began, as it often does, with a lucrative speech.”
In June 2005, Gold Service International, a South American business group, paid Bill Clinton $800,000 to deliver four speeches in South America. Gold Service was pushing for the free trade agreement, which would help boost Colombian exports to the United States, and Clinton was supportive of the policy.
Clinton traveled to South America on Giustra’s private jet to deliver his speeches, according to Schweizer. At the same time, the former president was trying to arrange a meeting between Giustra and then-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to help Giustra expand his business interests there. He arranged the meeting in the fall of 2005, at a philanthropic event he held in Colombia.
In January 2007, Pacific Rubiales, a company in which Giustra was involved, signed a pipeline deal with the state-owned energy company in Colombia. A month after the deal was signed, Giustra and Uribe visited the Clintons’ home in Chappaqua, New York, according to the book.
While this was taking place, Democrats continued to oppose the free trade agreement. But Colombia continued to court the Clintons, whom it saw as the best advocates for its cause, Schweizer writes.
Uribe threw a dinner gala in New York City at which he presented Bill Clinton with an award. The publicity for that event was organized by Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, whose CEO, Mark Penn, served as Clinton’s 2008 campaign strategist and pollster.
In April 2008, Penn’s firm was fired by the Colombian government after a Wall Street Journal report that he had met with Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S. to discuss the free trade agreement, which ran counter to Hillary Clinton’s stated position at the time. Penn resigned from the Clinton campaign one day after the firing.
Hillary Clinton is shown. | Getty
During the Democratic primary, Clinton and Obama both said they opposed the deal. “I will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” Clinton said on the trail.
A campaign aide pointed out that Clinton announced her opposition to the pending free trade agreement after Giustra and his company, Rubiales, had already contributed to the Clinton Foundation. All the contributions that would have pushed her to support it, they said, predated 2007, and for years after the donations came in, she continued to oppose the deal.
But by 2009, as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was telling Uribe she was supportive of the trade deal.
And in 2010, she visited Colombia while her husband was there with Giustra.
“Days after Hillary left Bogota, Prima Colombia Properties, which Frank Giustra has ownership interest in through a shell company called Flagship Industries, announced that it had acquired the right to cut timber in a biologically diverse forest on the pristine Colombian shoreline,” Schweizer writes. “Days later, Pacific Rubiales Energy, a company for which Giustra was the Canadian face, announced that the Uribe government was giving the company the right to drill for oil on six lucrative plots.”
Fallon called the claim “more unsubstantiated allegations that seek to connect dots based merely on then-Secretary Clinton’s travel schedule.”
The Obama administration said it changed its position only after Colombia made additional commitments about labor rights. And that push was not led by Hillary Clinton, but by then-U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, a campaign aide said.
Clinton’s support for the free trade agreement was in line with that of the White House.
Hillary Clinton is pictured. | AP Photo
“The idea that the White House sought to pass the Colombia trade deal for the sake of helping out a Clinton Foundation donor is nuts,” Fallon said.
That language matched former Obama adviser David Axelrod’s own reaction to Schweizer’s thesis.
“Haven’t read book attacking Clintons,” he tweeted Monday, “But if, as reported it charges that Obama Admin moved Colombia FTA to reward CGI donor, that’s nuts!”
Annie Karni @anniekarni
John Bresnahan [email protected]