Bill Clinton defends embattled family foundation

Posted at 9:50 AM, Aug 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-25 09:50:21-04

ATLANTA (AP) -- Former President Bill Clinton says he's proud of people who have donated to the Clinton Foundation and the work the organization has done, as he waded into a dispute that Republicans are hoping will damage his wife's presidential campaign.

"We're trying to do good things," Bill Clinton said Wednesday. "If there's something wrong with creating jobs and saving lives, I don't know what it is. The people who gave the money knew exactly what they were doing. I have nothing to say about it except that I'm really proud. I'm proud of what they've done."

He also defended Hillary Clinton's contact with donors to the foundation while serving as secretary of state, saying foundation donors like Bangladeshi economist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus have no trouble reaching officials around the world.

An Associated Press report Tuesday found more than half of the non-government officials who met with Hillary Clinton during the first half of her tenure as secretary of state gave money to the Clinton Foundation.

The meetings between Clinton, now the Democratic presidential nominee, and foundation donors don't appear to violate legal agreements both Clintons signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. State Department officials have said they are unaware of any agency actions influenced by the foundation.

Yet the frequency of the overlaps shows the mixing of access and donations. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has criticized the links between the foundation and the State Department, accusing the Clintons of establishing "a business to profit from public office."

On Wednesday evening, Hillary Clinton said the AP had only "looked at a small portion of my time" as secretary of state and had drawn the conclusion that her meetings with Nobel laureates - such as Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel - were connected to the foundation rather than their work as global leaders.

"That is absurd," she told CNN. She described the story as "all smoke, no fire."

Bill Clinton said changes at the foundation are needed if Hillary Clinton becomes president that weren't necessary when she led the State Department. The foundation won't accept foreign donations, and he will stop personally raising money for the foundation, he said.

"We'll have to do more than when she was secretary of state, because if you make a mistake, there's always appeal to the White House if you're secretary of state," Clinton said. "If you're president, you can't."

A statement Clinton issued on Monday said those changes will go into effect if Hillary Clinton is elected. Bill Clinton said Wednesday that the foundation has begun looking for partners to take over some of its work in preparation for that outcome. That type of transition "takes a reasonable amount of time," he said.

"You have to do it in a way that no one loses their job, no one loses their income and no one loses their life," he said. "That's all I'm concerned about. We'll do it as fast as we can."