Newsweek reports that “one of the biggest benefactors to the Clinton Foundation has been trading with Iran and may be in breach of US sanctions imposed on the country.” The “benefactor” in question is Victor Pinchuk, described by Newsweek as a “Ukrainian oligarch [who] has courted the Clintons for at least nine years – in the United States, the Alps and Ukraine.”
Newsweek says it has seen declarations and documents that show a series of shipments from Interpipe, Pinchuck’s company, to Iran in 2011 and 2012. The shipments include railway parts and products commonly used in the oil and gas sectors. For example, one invoice, in the amount of $1.8 million, was for “seamless hot-worked steel pipes for pipelines,” according to Newsweek.
Both the rail and oil and gas sectors are covered by U.S. government imposed sanctions. The sanctions prohibit any single invoice to the Iranian petrochemical industry worth more than $1 million.
Newsweek points out that the person in charge of monitoring compliance with the sanctions by non-US companies is the Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton, of course, held that job from 2009 until 2013 – the period during which Pinchuk’s company traded with Iran but was not sanctioned.
I’ve maintained that, of all the potential scandal allegations Hillary Clinton may face, those relating to the Clinton Foundation could prove to be the most significant. Indeed, the Clinton Foundation may become for Hillary Clinton what Bain Capital was for Mitt Romney.
The analogy is inexact, of course. On the one hand, no whiff of corruption surrounded Bain Capital — there was no allegation that money was ever exchanged for favors. In that sense, the Clinton Foundation can be viewed as more toxic.
On the other hand, the Clinton Foundation indisputably does good work. In this sense, it seems more sympathetic than Bain Capital.
The Clintons do, of course, benefit personally from the Foundation. As Jonathan Allen puts it, “the money pays for the creature comforts of the Clintons and their inner circle.” In addition, “Bill Clinton has a huge personal stake in what he’s built [through the Foundation], a modern post-presidency that has fortified and improved his reputation.”
But this isn’t how most voters will look at it. For them, the presumption will be in favor of the Foundation because it is a charitable institution.
But that presumption isn’t likely to survive evidence that fat cats traded cash for access to the Secretary of State. And it certainly won’t survive evidence that the fat cats in question were advancing sketchy agendas.
If Newsweek’s report is accurate, Pinchuck’s agenda was beyond sketchy. His goal was to make a profit by circumventing sanctions designed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Newsweek’s story notwithstanding, we shouldn’t count on the media to sustain interest in these kinds of stories. Nor do we need to. The Clinton Foundation-based attack ads against Hillary Clinton will write themselves.
The real question is whether the Republicans will keep their nerve and use such ads as ruthlessly as the Democrats did with Mitt Romney and Bain Capital?