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Clinton's Credibility Questioned as Bill's Philanthropy 'Takes It to the Limit'

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Deniability is also built into the sprawling portfolio of Tony Blair. The plethora of entities he has created--legally distinct but fuzzy in other regards--provides clues to his enmeshed roles and ability to deny wrongdoing. What the Telegraph dubs"Blair Inc." features a wide array: there's been the African Governance Initiative, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the Tony Blair Sports Foundation, and the initiative called Breaking the Climate Deadlock. There's Tony Blair Associates, which has advised the governments of Kuwait and Kazakhstan, among others. (Blair can be seen in a Kazakh promotional clip called "In the Stirrups of Time," which the New Republic calls a "dreary, neo-Stalinist propaganda video.") Adding to the Blair muddle: some of his "management companies" are organized as "liability partnership[s]," which means, so says the Telegraph, that Blair "does not have any legal obligation to publish accounts."

Some of Blair's overlapping roles are well known. Blair, on the very day he resigned from office in 2007, picked up the title of special envoy to the so-called Quartet on the Middle East, which is composed of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. But that was hardly the only role he would assume. He also advised insurance giant Zurich International and JPMorgan Chase, which earned him many millions of dollars. His JP Morgan Chase role has brought him intense scrutiny over visits to Libya, a few of them apparently paid for by Muammar Gaddafi. That's because at the time, JPMorgan Chase was trying to broker a deal between the Libyans and a Russian oligarch (a deal that eventually fell through). Blair has strongly insisted that he does not lobby on behalf of JPMorgan Chase. But as the maker of a documentary on Blair wrote in the Telegraph:

Was Mr Blair in discuss Middle East peace with Gaddafi? Was he working on behalf of his Governance Initiative, which claims it "pioneers a new way of working with African countries"? Was he sounding out deals for JP Morgan Chase, as the well-placed Telegraph source insists? Or was he there on behalf of his own very lucrative money-making concern, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), whose professed objective is to provide "strategic advice" on "political and economic trends and government reform"? This confusion of motive and identity follows Mr Blair almost everywhere he goes[.]

At the very least, JPMorgan Chase can exploit the Blair brand. The company is paying Blair a seven-figure fee for it. As The National Interest notes, ". . . JPMorgan Chase apparently invoked his name during the negotiations" for the unsuccessful Libyan-Russian deal. Yet despite the myriad questions, Blair maintained this role for a solid eight years, at a time when the Middle East desperately needed strong, unimpeachable guidance.

Is shamelessness becoming the new normal? Just a little more than a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for heads of state to monetize their prestige and mix influence with money in the manner of Clinton and Blair--what Financial Times journalist Simon Kuper calls "Blair Disease."

Other recent leaders of Western democracies have also used their former positions to advantage, although in a more blatant manner than Clinton-Blair Inc. In 2005, Gerhard Schroeder, just months after pushing hard for a controversial German-Russian pipeline in his official capacity as German Chancellor, joined that very pipeline company months after leaving office. That pipeline is controlled by Russian energy giant Gazprom. His warm embrace of his Russian friends has apparently only deepened over time, with his successor Angela Merkel understandably furious as Schroeder has emerged as an apologist for Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Or take Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2012, the Telegraph reported that Sarkozy, who had just lost re-election as president of France, said that he was "bored" in retirement and was likely to take what one political analyst dubbed the "Anglo-Saxon" route to maintaining relevance, that is, set up a vast web of philanthropy and business in the style of Blair and Clinton. Less than a year later came reports that he was considering running a private equity fund for Qatar. This musing created a small firestorm and he apparently set it aside in an already rocky bid to return to public office: two weeks ago, he was indicted on campaign finance charges.

Sarkozy sparked headlines over just one possible role. And yet Hillary Clinton, with a thousand or so secret donors to Clinton philanthropies, frames any questions as a mere "distraction" she can handle. Whether or not that's the case, the Clinton enterprise is ready-made to combat trouble. The playbook's overlapping roles and entities, which ensure deniability, are eerily reminiscent of those employed by the influence elites I charted in 1990s eastern Europe who sought the spoils of unraveling states after communism. Celebrity branding, and people's eagerness to revel in it--a distinctly Western cast that has since become part of the foreground--discourages the public from asking questions.

Where does all this deniability leave us, the public? As I argue in Unaccountable, we are firmly entrenched in an age where violation of the public trust--what I call the "new corruption"--is at an all-time high. Trust in politicians and public officials is being undermined by the M.O. of Clinton/Blair and their ilk. And this at a time when trust in politicians overall is already seriously frayed.

Yet trust is crucial for a well-functioning democracy, and by exposing themselves to untold numbers of potential conflicts of interest, once and would-be presidents and former world leaders jeopardize that trust. No one should "distract" us from that.

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Janine R. Wedel, an anthropologist and University Professor in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University, is the author ofUnaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security (Pegasus, October 2014).

Her other books include the award-winning Shadow Elite (Basic Books) and  (more...)

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Clinton's Credibility Questioned as Bill's Philanthropy 'Takes It to the Limit'

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