Was access to Hillary Clinton's time for sale?

Story highlights

  • Latest revelations make ethical issues surrounding the Clinton Foundation appear even more serious, writes Buck Sexton
  • An AP study found many of those who met with Clinton were donors; emails suggest some got special access, he writes

Buck Sexton is a political commentator for CNN and host of "The Buck Sexton Show" on TheBlaze. He was previously a CIA counterterrorism analyst. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)There's the appearance of impropriety, and then there's the outright selling of government favors. Hillary Clinton's ties to the Clinton Foundation while secretary of state have always appeared dubious and unethical. Now, with the revelations by The Associated Press that suggest donors to the Clinton Foundation received special access, Clinton's defenders will have to address allegations that Madame Secretary was, in effect, selling her official time to the highest bidders.

With a quick glance at the numbers, any honest observer can recognize the depth and breadth of Clinton's pay to play scheme. Of the 154 people from private interests who met with or spoke on the phone with Clinton, 85 were also donors to her foundation. Their contributions totaled around $156 million. And this figure is entirely separate from the 16 foreign governments that passed along $170 million to the Clinton charity, all of whom likely expected favorable treatment for their interests from our nation's chief diplomat.
    This not only looks improper, but under different political circumstances, and perhaps a different attorney general, a special prosecutor would be appointed to investigate. That the Obama administration set up guidelines for Clinton while she was secretary of state in no way relieves her of her obligations to uphold her oath of office, nor would any handshake agreement with the White House absolve her of federal laws concerning corruption. There is simply no excuse for her creating the appearance that access to one of the most important positions in the United States government was for sale.
    The pro-Clinton chorus will no doubt claim that, as with the email server scandal, no criminal charges have been filed in regard to the Clinton Foundation, and so there is nothing to see here. But such a defense is both premature, and even if true, still undermines their preferred candidate.
    We are still learning more about Clinton's dealings with the foundation as emails continue to trickle out (including 15,000 just recently discovered), under court order, from the State Department. And even if no charges are ever brought, the Clinton campaign has reached an ignominious low when Clinton has to breathe a sigh of relief not once but twice a summer as the hand of the Justice Department passes over her without indictment. "I'm not a crook" is hardly an inspiring slogan for the Clinton faithful.
    There are questions to which Americans must demand answers from the Clinton campaign, should she ever decide to descend from on high for a real press conference. If Clinton wasn't selling access to her office as secretary of state, why did so many of the people seeking to meet with her also donate to the foundation?
    Meeting with a sitting secretary of state is not a trip to Disney World. It's the sort of thing that a person arranges when there is business to discuss, and it seems that many of the Clinton donors wanted help from the secretary. If those meetings were scheduled, and favorable treatment handed out, because of donations to her foundation, Clinton violated the trust of the American people, and is guilty of corruption.
    There is another ethical level on which both Hillary and Bill Clinton have fallen far short: the conduct of the foundation itself. The primary focus of a charitable organization should be charity with a clear mission in mind. When it comes to the motive behind it, the Clinton Foundation is more family corporation and public relations firm than altruistic venture.
    Nobody has to wonder what the Red Cross, Salvation Army or St Jude's Hospital do with donations. On the other hand, the Clinton Global Initiative has as its mission statement to "create and implement innovative solutions to the world's most pressing challenges." This broad and meaningless pablum should raise more than a few eyebrows. If the Clintons were so interested in helping the world, why not simply raise money for the already established charities that exist to help those in need? We know the answer.
    The Clinton Foundation is a club for the connected and the powerful, posing as saviors of mankind. In reality, it's mostly about private jet travel to fancy conferences for the wealthy and well-connected. And most importantly, Clinton offered donors the facade of selflessness as they bought access to high government office. We now know assorted power brokers, shady international businessmen and autocratic regimes eagerly played along with the ruse.
    The Clintons, not content merely to make lying a political art form, have gone a step further. In their insatiable appetite for power and money, they have polluted charitable giving itself.
    Follow CNN Opinion

    Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    Now, thanks to the woman who wishes to be the most powerful politician in the world, consideration for the poor and unfortunate has been commoditized for the benefit of self-indulgent plutocrats who want a tax write-off.
    That many Americans, and certainly a majority of Clinton supporters, don't seem to care enough to reject Clinton as our next commander in chief is an indictment of their expectations for character and dignity in an elected official.
    Any honest observer has to ask whether the truth about Clinton's corporate fiefdom, cynically masked with the trappings of a charity, should sink her presidential ambitions. That so many Americans seem willing to overlook her serial ethical failings is among the most depressing truths of an already dispiriting election season.