According to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation, the answer is 205. A total of 205 Clinton Foundation donors whose corporations and foundations collectively contributed $216 million since 2009 were awarded the most coveted invitations in the nation’s capital: prestigious seats at one or more White House State Dinners.
At least 15 of the Clinton Foundation’s corporate donors — representing $47 million in contributions — were able to win invitations to two or more official state dinners.
Significantly, the decision makers who authorized the special invitations were not at the White House at all, but were ensconced in the Department of State’s Office of Protocol. The protocol office, chosen by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are filled solely with long-time Clinton loyalists.
Despite the Democratic presidential nominee’s departure from the State Department in 2013, all of the top officeholders in the protocol office throughout Barack Obama’s two terms have been senior staffers who served in either former President Bill Clinton’s White House or in Hillary’s Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns.
Critics of the foundation worry that Dennis Cheng — who served as Clinton’s protocol deputy chief and later went directly to the Clinton Foundation as its chief fundraiser — could have “walked away” with valuable donor lists compiled by the office.
After Cheng left the Department of State, he raised a record quarter billion dollars while at the foundation. He is now Hillary’s national fundraiser, leading her presidential bid to raise $2 billion. As a result, The Daily Beast once called him, “Hillary Clinton’s $2 billion money man.”
If Cheng shared confidential information with the foundation, he may have violated a special “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) signed by the foundation and the Obama transition team in November 2008. The MOU warned of avoiding “potential or actual conflict of interest.”
Cheng also could run afoul of a 18 USC 208, a federal statute that “prohibits an executive branch employee from participating personally and substantially in a particular Government matter that will affect his own financial interests,” including those of a prospective employer or a family member.
“How much of the mailing list and contact information Cheng got at Protocol, migrated over to the Clinton Foundation,” asked Charles Ortel a Wall Street investor and an outspoken critic of the Clinton Foundation.
“We don’t yet how much of this extraordinarily valuable contact information as it walked out the front door either in Dennis Cheng’s personal cell phone, or on a contact list that might have been emailed,” he said in an interview with TheDCNF.
Neither the foundation nor Hillary’s presidential campaign responded to inquiries about potential conflicts of interest surrounding Cheng.
Bill boasted in a Tuesday CNN interview that foundation donors never benefited from any State Department action, asserting:
To the best of my knowledge, nobody ever got anything from the State Department because they supported the Clinton Foundation.
Yet, official White House dinners are among the most glamorous and exclusive venues in Washington, D.C., and the competition to secure an invitation is fierce.
Guests not only can mingle with a head of state and their closest advisors, but they also offer privileged access to the president, top White House staff, and many cabinet members.
Former U.S. Attorney Joseph DiGenova, who prosecuted corruption cases in Washington, D.C., told TheDCNF the White House dinners weren’t only benefits, but amounted to the “selling of access”:
The obvious connection between donations and access to big, White House state dinners is very important. It was clearly a reward to donors, something they got as a result of giving money to the Clinton Foundation.
DiGenova was U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and was appointed an Independent Counsel concerning the Clinton passport disclosure case.
“We are looking into Cheng’s relationship between the State Department and the foundation and the political donor class,” former U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker told TheDCNF. Whitaker is the executive director of the ethics watchdog group, the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust (FACT).
“Cheng is the person in the middle of this situation. He had substantial input as to who was invited, who got seated where,” he said, adding:
I would say Cheng’s a key figure — really a shadowy figure — in this whole thing.
It’s very obvious to me that people were giving to the foundation, not only because they perceived they could get access to the State Department, but it now appears they were giving in order to get access to State Dinners at the White House.
FACT has been trying to obtain the email traffic between Cheng and the Clinton Foundation under the Freedom of Information Act. The group initially filed an FOIA request in February 2015, but Department of State officials are refusing to release any of the emails before the presidential election.
“They have been stonewalling us and not responsive and now they’re telling us that we probably won’t get it until mid-to-late November,” Whitaker said. He served as the US Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 2004-2009.