Editor’s Note: In the past I have resisted writing about the Clinton Foundation scandal for two reasons primarily – the details are still spilling out into the public in real time and the sheer breadth/density of the scandal make it difficult to explain properly in the context of a single essay. Recently however, I have undertaken an essay project that requires me to dive much deeper into the Foundation’s role in what I no longer feel is unfair to call the “Clinton Crime Syndicate.” As a result, I’ve been feverishly researching both the actual charity status of the Clinton Foundation and the seemingly endless conflicts of interest involved.
Naturally, investigative journalism based on material this dense is difficult to accomplish in the context of a single essay, so I’ve decided to break down some of this research further into a set of smaller, more digestible articles we can reference later when I get back to finishing the Lesser of Two Evils series. Today I present part one of my “Clinton Cash” study and review – a recent documentary about the Clinton Foundation, the pay for play influence trading operation that appears to be tied to it and both of the Clintons themselves. Although, I don’t agree with everything presented in Clinton Cash, it does represent an excellent primer on some aspects of the scandal as a whole and contains an extraordinary amount of information for a sixty-five minute film.
As with all film “reviews” on this site, I’ll only be spending a small amount of time on stylistic/entertainment based observations and you can find an embedded copy of the movie at the start of the article below. Please note that in this case I do not own this film and since it’s currently being shown in select theaters – I can’t be held responsible if YouTube takes it down, nor do I have a hard-copy to load up in that event; sorry folks.
The Elephant Behind the Camera
I’m going to begin this review by assuming that we’re all rational, adult people who’re prepared to set aside our political views and/or bias in the quest for the truth. That commitment however, does not mean we should ignore the political views and/or potential bias of the people who produced this film while we’re studying it – because their history and outlook almost certainly informs the content of such a politically charged documentary.
In this case, Clinton Cash is based on a book of the same title by Peter Schweizer; who also serves as the narrator of our film. It would be something of an understatement to say Schweizer is a Republican; he’s a former fellow at the Hoover Institution, a late era Bush administration speech writer and he even co-authored two novels with former Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger – a man who almost certainly should have gone to jail for his role in the Iran-Contra affair.
Furthermore, Schweizer has a long history of attacking Democratic politicians and while some of the examples of his journalistic failures provided in this (notably biased itself) David Brock funded hit piece are bullshit; some of them aren’t. While I wouldn’t describe Schweizer as a straight up liar, the simple truth is he’s in the business of tearing down Democrats and he’s been caught drawing scandalous conclusions from incomplete data on several occasions in the past. He’s also an editor at large for the notably biased Breitbart magazine and while he’s been working on independent projects during their disgraceful transformation into an alt-right tabloid – the magazine’s unfortunate fingerprints are all over this documentary.
Frankly, I realize that doesn’t paint a very promising picture for our study of this film and I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much of value when I sat down to watch it. With that noted however, I feel that it’s important to remind you that Schweizer is not Dinesh D’Souza here; nor is his film a borderline dystopian fantasy, full of obvious historical inaccuracies and misinterpretations like D’Souza’s objectively fucking insane “Hillary’s America.” Rather, Schweizer is simply an overly ambitious muckraker with skin in the game who’s afflicted with that peculiar disease that prevents Republicans from scoring easy political points – in favor of trying to turn every goddamn scandal into the ultimate, knockout blow for the Democratic Party.
In light of all of this, I approached Clinton Cash with my “eyes wide open” and the intent to actively separate Schweizer’s factual claims from the potentially wild conclusions he drew from them – an effort I hope will be apparent as we break down the various scandals the author covers in the film.
A Conservative Phantascope
This of course leads nicely into our tone and style discussion because while the film’s production values are off the chart, it’s absolutely loaded with “conservative” documentary tropes. I have no idea what it is about dramatic, building music and aerial wide-shot pan effects that functions like catnip for fifty year old Republicans – but the makers of Clinton Cash were sure to include these elements early and often.
There’s also a healthy reliance on maps, models and string to create a general “conspiratorial” or “spy movie” effect; as well as numerous images of falling cash that keep the focus of the documentary primarily on the Clinton’s influence trading through their global charity foundation.
Probably the most annoying trope however, is director MA Taylor’s insistence on repeatedly using wild animals hunting on the African plains to graphically symbolize the predatory nature of the Clinton’s “charity” work and influence peddling. Not only is this metaphor absurdly overdone in documentary films in general, but I actually found it really prevented me from engaging with the film early on – by and large the first five minutes of Clinton Cash are the least enjoyable five minutes in the entire production and that’s no way to start a documentary.
Despite these minor problems however, Clinton Cash is actually a very well presented film – the pacing is quick, footage from two decades worth of news broadcasts has been edited in seamlessly and Schweizer himself is a capable narrator who clearly knows this material very well. This sharp production allows the filmmakers to cram an absolutely incredible amount of information into a sixty-five minute documentary and if you’re fact checking Schweizer’s claims as you go along like I was, you’ll find yourself pausing often.
There is also a curious, off-beat leftist tone to the film as Schweizer repeatedly comes back to the idea that the Clintons are actively professing to help the disadvantaged globally, but are instead actually preying on devastated countries for massive profit and political power. As the author details human rights violations, the swindling of natural resources from the poor for the benefit of brutal oligarchs and the unconscionable murders that donors to the foundation have helped facilitate – it’s hard not to get the sense that Schweizer actually cares about these horrible crimes; as much or perhaps even more than he cares about tearing down a powerful Democrat on the verge of the presidency.
Is it possible the film is just pandering to the left? Sure, but in that case it’s a fairly successful endeavor; even the worst atrocities are presented in an honest, compassionate tone – completely absent of the sing-song “gotcha” quality Republicans who don’t give a flying fuck about poor, foreign people use when discussing Democrat hypocrisy (see D’Souza.)
Opening the Shutters
The film opens with a long intro sequence created entirely by splicing together clips of Bill & Hillary Clinton speaking; before gradually introducing clips of various news anchors that call into question the noble motives you’ve just heard the Clintons personally speaking about. It’s a nice touch and it allows the filmmakers to slide a very difficult to prove accusation into the film early; namely that the Clinton Foundation gives about ten percent of the money they raise to actual charities and the services that they offer.
While this claim is not strictly false and was indeed made publicly in the media, Clinton Cash fails to tell you that the Clinton Foundation (and related charities) purport to do much of their charity work in house and therefore consider a great deal of the money it keeps as overhead expenses. To be fair, this in and of itself is still a very suspicious set up for a charity organization and the fact that it’s extremely difficult to separate out how the money is actually spent has caused problems for the Foundation in the past – but that isn’t really explored in the film either.
This is of course precisely what I meant early when I talked about “Republican disease” as Schweizer/Taylor pass up a perfect opportunity to explain why the Clinton Foundation might not even be a charity, in favor of a gotcha voice-over that implies the Foundation keeps 90% of donated funds. The claim is not strictly a lie, but it is wildly open to interpretation and furthermore it opens Clinton Cash itself up to easy criticism by neoliberal debunkers – all for a five second voice-over that half the audience probably didn’t even register on a conscious level.
Things improve quickly from there however as the news clip voice-overs shift to the incredible amount of money Bill Clinton has received in speaking fees, the Clintons reported financial troubles when they left the White House and the billions of difficult to trace dollars “sloshing around” in the Foundations coffers. Finally, the opening wraps up with several pundits repeatedly hammering home the apparent conflict of interest issue the Foundation presented when Hillary Clinton became US Secretary of State; before closing with an intense, fast-paced cut up of suitcases full of bloody money, mining explosions and an ironic quote from Bill Clinton – “we did this, with a very simple strategy.”
Neocolonialism in Africa
It is at this point that Schweizer presents the essential thesis of the documentary and points out it’s striking resemblance to classic, European colonialism. Schweizer’s ultimate hypothesis is that the Clinton Foundation (and the Clintons themselves) act as a go between between for monstrous oligarchs and the multi-million dollar minerals, energy or resource firms that wish to exploit “third world” and disaster ridden nations. In this arrangement the Foundation collects millions of dollars in donations and the Clintons themselves get exorbitant fees for largely irrelevant speeches. In return, the oligarchs and dictators gain legitimacy either through their personal relationship with the Clintons or their work with the Clinton Foundation; all while the wealthy donors get rich mineral and resource concessions from the murderous human rights violators who run the devastated countries involved.
That may sound like an implausible theory at first, but over the course of the documentary Schweizer and company actually do a pretty damn good job of supporting this conclusion with evidence; starting with a close examination of brutal Rwandan quasi-dictator Paul Kagame and former US Ambassador/close Clinton ally Joe Wilson.
In Paul Kagame’s case the focus is on his personal friendship with Bill Clinton and the awards the Clinton Foundation (and related charities) has given Kagame for the leadership of Rwanda – despite compelling, even blatant evidence that Rwanda’s president is a murderer who foments war in other nations and controls political opposition in his country with violence. Critics may argue that this is guilt by association, but the simple truth is that Kagame’s iron rule over Rwanda has been facilitated in no small part by his open friendships with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair – doing business with a man like Paul Kagame is bad enough, but giving him a goddamn human rights award is absurd, insulting and legitimately fucking evil.
Wilson on the other hand is revealed to have been the vice chairman of Jarch Capital; a company that negotiated a fifty year lease with South-Sundanese warlords for resource rights and was actively investing in “sovereignty change” in the civil war torn nation. Although Clinton Cash presents no evidence that the State Department helped in obtaining this contract – Schweizer does show a news clipping regarding Wilson’s direct petition to Hillary for a contract awarded to a different resource company in Tanzania and his ongoing relationship as a friend and unofficial advisor to Clinton can easily be established with a Google search.
Things really start to get off the chain however when Clinton Cash introduces Swedish mining magnate Lukas Lundin – a man who pledged a hundred million dollars to the Clinton Foundation in 2007. The narrator quickly reveals Lundin’s most lucrative mining interests are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo; a nation which Schweizer notes may have the worst human rights situation on the entire planet. Unfortunately for Lundin, his Congo profits (which by his own admission were “staggering”) were threatened by the Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006; a law Hillary Clinton helped sponsor as a US Senator at the time. By the time she took office as Secretary of State in 2009 however, Clinton’s stance on the DRC had softened notably and over time, US aid increasingly flowed into the country.
This scandal, presented just this way, would have been both shocking and utterly damning in it’s own right; Schweizer has clearly shown Clinton’s position before money changed hands and her shifting priorities after an investor heavily dependent on maintaining the status quo ponied up a hundred million dollars. That is, if you’ll pardon my french a big fucking deal and the obvious conflict of interest involved in the Clinton Foundations dealings with Lundin’s company absolutely should raise red flags for any intelligent viewer.
Unfortunately, Republican knockout disease strikes again and Clinton Cash clearly implies that Clinton cancelled the DRC Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006 after taking office in 2009 – this is simply not true and the act remains in effect today. What Clinton actually did was simply refuse to enforce the most important section of the Act designed to help the people of DRC fight corruption; which in turn allowed her friend and donor Lundin to continue amassing obscene profits.
In his haste to convict Hillary, Schweizer somehow also manages to ignore Bill Clinton’s 2012 attempt to collect $650K for two photos and a speech from the Democratic Republic of Congo itself; something not even the US State department found optically digestible, since they refused to let him do it.
Corruption, Conflicts of Interest & Nigeria
Finally, the Clinton Cash closes it’s examination of the Clinton Foundations shady African arrangements with an extremely thorough look at what can only be described as the “Clinton’s Nigeria Problem.”
The segment opens with a news anchor clip explaining that despite Nigeria’s relative wealth in terms of resources as well as significant US aid; widespread corruption and theft have driven roughly fifty percent (since increased) of the Nigerian population into abject poverty. Schweizer then cuts in to remind viewers that US law would normally forbid us from providing aid to such an obviously unethical, non-transparent nation – indeed, the US government actually threatened to do just that at one point in 2013. During Clinton’s time as Secretary of Sate however, Nigeria was given exemptions against this action by the State Department and continued to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid.
Searching for a possible explanation for the State Department’s indulgence, the film explores the Clintons (and the Clinton Foundations) financial ties to influential people in Nigeria at the time; starting with two speeches Bill Clinton gave in the nation for a combined $1.4 million. These speeches were paid for by the highly influential CEO of a Nigerian company with close ties to the president of the Nigeria and indeed, virtually everyone important in the country. This represented a significant increase (more than triple) from Bill Clinton’s typical speaking fees when Hillary Clinton was not Secretary of State and therefore, not in a position to help Nigeria continue to receive US aid. Although Schweizer doesn’t mention it, the implication that Clinton’s support of Nigeria may have been directly tied to Bill’s speaking fees is further solidified by her notably cooler attitude towards the country in 2014 – by which time Bill’s paid speaking engagements in the nation ended.
This however pales in comparison to the Clinton’s involvement with Foundation donor and powerful Nigerian mogul Gilbert Chagory; a man who’s company has committed $1 billion (with a b) to the Clinton Global Initiative and a former business associate with corrupt as fuck Clinton ally Marc Rich – who you’ll remember from Bill Clinton’s “disgraceful” Pardongate scandal at the end of his term in the White House. To say that Glibert Chagory is unscrupulous would be an understatement of literally epic goddamn proportions; he’s been convicted of helping former leader of Nigeria General Sani Abacha unlawfully sell and launder Nigerian oil assets worth billions as well as admitting to illegally helping Abacha’s family transfer money out of the country after the dictator’s death.
Although Schweizer’s focus is placed on the fact that Clinton-run charities would even consider taking money from a goddamn venal ghoul like Chagory (and his brother); there also exists significant evidence that this relationship may have had even more drastic consequences for the nation of Nigeria. As far back as 2011, Clinton’s State Department had been urged by many observers to designate Nigerian militant group Boko Haram a terrorist organization to increase US ability to fight the growing threat they represented in the region – a position that the corrupt Nigerian government (and thus oligarchs like Chagory) did not support; likely because it would require increased financial transparency across the nation to enforce. Ultimately, the organization was not given the official designation until 2013; after Clinton left office and Boko Haram had kidnapped more than 200 young Nigerian girls.
Currently, it remains impossible to prove that the Clinton Foundation’s relationships in Nigeria directly caused the State Department to delay naming Boko Haram a terrorist group until 2013; a situation that isn’t exactly made easier by Clinton’s deletion of over thirty thousand emails from her private server. The strange coincidences and apparent, brazen conflict of interest involved however have caused one US Senator to start an investigation and request documentation from Clinton’s time as Secretary of State. Shockingly, Senator Vitter even declared that this investigation produced evidence showing Clinton Foundation employees who worked for the State Department were directly involved with the decision to avoid labeling Boko Haram a terrorist group; in a published letter to current Secretary of State John Kerry that almost nobody in the mainstream media has even bothered to report.
The Company You Keep
Critics of Clinton Cash have commonly pointed to the lack of a smoking gun or utterly damning document in Schweizer’s work as evidence that this is all a lot of smoke with no real fire – but a simple examination of what we’ve learned about the Clintons involvement in Africa alone suggests that idea is blatantly false.
Time and time again this film draws clear, verifiable lines between either the Clinton Foundation or the Clintons themselves and brutal dictators/oligarchs who exploit the nations they control with impunity. The list of Clinton donors and friends in Africa includes unrepentant human rights violators, utterly amoral speculators who openly deal with warlords and some of the most corrupt businessmen on the continent – and virtually all of them have benefited in some tangible way from their relationship with the Clintons or their foundation. Clinton’s most ardent defenders would have you believe these results are all just a series of fortunate accidents but that suggestion simply does not hold up under scrutiny; short of written confession, the case Clinton Cash presents so far probably couldn’t get a whole lot more damning.
These are not happy coincidences; they represent a clear and established pattern that strongly suggests the Clinton Foundation is a vehicle the Clintons use to manage influence trading scams in Africa – a pattern that surely warrants further investigation by authorities in multiple countries and remains largely ignored by mainstream media in the United States.
At this point, I’m going to stop and let everyone catch their breath – this essay is already quite long and we’re only about seventeen minutes into the documentary at the moment.
One thing I would like to point out before I go however is that while I’ve been harsh, even highly critical of the motivations behind and mistakes made in the Clinton Cash; overall it is an extremely well executed investigation into some of the scandals surrounding the Clinton Foundation. I have been firm in my criticism and diligent with my fact checking entirely to counter whatever political bias went into making the film but ultimately, Scweizer’s associations and reasons for making the documentary matter far less than the content – which has been mostly factual, with the noted exceptions discussed above.
In short; I probably still wouldn’t have anyone involved in making Clinton Cash over to my house for dinner, but the film itself is still a valuable tool for exposing the Clinton Foundation for what it really is.
Continued in C.R.E.A.M Part Two…
- Nina Illingworth
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