Bill Clinton has given many speeches since he left office in 2001, earning millions of dollars. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
With an exasperated swipe at “absurd right-wing conspiracy theories,” Hillary Clinton’s campaign on Wednesday rejected the allegation in a new book that she watered down Iran sanctions to please a corporation that paid Bill Clinton a fortune in speaking fees.
The accusation appears in “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” which is due out May 5. Republicans hope the book will cripple her presidential bid. Democrats have underlined conservative author Peter Schweizer’s past credibility problems.
But the charges — and the Clinton team’s aggressive and systematic pushback against them — highlight once again how vulnerable the former first lady, senator, and secretary of state could prove to be to attacks centered on her family’s finances since they left the White House.
“The really troubling thing about Bill’s speeches is the apparent correlation between his fees and Hillary’s decisions during her tenure as secretary of state,” Schweizer writes.
In a chapter obtained by Yahoo News, Schweizer marshals circumstantial evidence to suggest that Sweden-based global telecommunications giant Ericsson effectively influenced Hillary to spare it from punishing economic sanctions for doing business with Iran by paying $750,000 to Bill Clinton to speak at a Nov. 12, 2011, telecom conference in Hong Kong. There is, however, no smoking gun.
“The book relies on widely available data and twists it into absurd, right-wing conspiracy theories,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told Yahoo News, accusing Schweizer of making “ridiculous, unproven claims” that Bill Clinton’s speaking fees swayed Hillary Clinton’s policymaking.
“Clinton Cash” notes that Ericsson had come under pressure from the administration and Congress because the cellular communications giant makes technology, like GPS, that the Iranian regime could use to track and monitor opposition. It notes that the Obama administration, after a monthslong review, unveiled sanctions against Iran one week after Bill Clinton’s speech — sanctions that left out the telecom sector. And it points out that when Obama took aim in April 2012 at the Iranian regime’s use of high-tech equipment, he did not go after makers and sellers of that equipment, only those inside Iran and Syria who used it to hamper dissent.
Fallon points out that the November 2011 sanctions were imposed by Obama via executive action, not by Clinton.
“This is a case of sloppy research,” he said. “Ericsson was not carved out from anything in 2011. That round of sanctions specifically dealt with companies assisting Iran’s petroleum sector and nuclear energy, not the telecom industry.”
As for the April 2012 executive order, it “was directed at the users of technology who sought to stifle dissidents, as opposed to the equipment manufacturers like Ericsson.”
Asked why both decisions could not be seen as further evidence of Hillary’s influence over foreign policy, rather than undermining the book’s premise, a Clinton aide replied: “So if Clinton was the impulse for excluding them before, why haven’t they been included in the three years since she left State?
“This argument hits on the problem with the whole book: It takes policy positions that were true of the whole Obama administration and claims that she was somehow unilaterally responsible for those positions,” the aide said on condition of anonymity.
The Obama administration has consistently struggled with the conundrum of what to do about technology that dissidents use to spread their messages or to organize but that oppressive regimes can also use to disrupt the opposition.
The president himself alluded to this issue when he unveiled the April 2012 sanctions on individuals and agencies inside Iran and Syria that use such technology to crack down on dissent —but not, as critics quickly noted, on Western firms that made or supplied the hardware and software.
“These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them,” he said in remarks at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Hillary also discussed the problem at a Dec. 8, 2011, conference on Internet freedom in the Netherlands, a fact the book notes.
“Today’s news stories are about companies selling the hardware and software of repression to authoritarian governments,” like Iran or Syria, she said. “There can be no doubt it will be used to violate rights.”
Clinton said sanctions “are useful tools” but cautioned that “dual-use technologies and third-party sales make it impossible to have a sanctions regime that perfectly prevents bad actors from using technologies in bad ways.”
“The fact is, you can’t wait for instructions” from government, she emphasized. “In the 21st century, smart companies have to act before they find themselves in the crosshairs of controversy.”