The hacked emails begin to paint a portrait of Chelsea Clinton as she set about “protecting my father and the nonprofit status of the foundation.”
Chelsea Clinton was alarmed.
During a 2011 trip to London representing her family’s foundation, she got wind that people close to her father, Bill Clinton, had been lobbying members of Parliament for their own consulting clients, telling the officials they were calling “on behalf of President Clinton.”
People she ran into whispered that the practice reminded them of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s sneered-upon post-Downing Street moneymaking ventures, a comparison she said “would horrify my father,” who had no idea his name was being used.
It was an eye-opening moment for Chelsea Clinton, the only child of America’s most famous political power couple, who was making a new name for herself as a defender of her father’s legacy and, by extension, of her mother’s coming second presidential campaign.
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Her comments about her father’s aides were revealed in the thousands of emails obtained by hackers and released by WikiLeaks over the past month. In addition to showing the internal strategizing, sniping and off-the-cuff commentary within Hillary Clinton’s inner circle, the emails begin to paint a portrait of her guarded and private daughter as she set about her goal, as she explained in one email, of “protecting my father and the nonprofit status of the foundation.”
As Chelsea Clinton asserted herself at the Clinton Foundation, eager to embrace her role as a board member and de facto heir, she became concerned about what seemed to her to be a lack of professionalism and a blurring of the lines between the foundation’s philanthropic activities and some of its leaders’ business interests.
“My only objectives were to take stock, professionalize the foundation, build it for the future and build it in such a way that supported his work and my mom’s,” Chelsea Clinton wrote in an email to her parents’ closest advisers in November 2011, about the time she enlisted outside lawyers to examine the foundation’s practices.
On the defensive
Though her housecleaning role had Hillary Clinton’s tacit approval (“My mother strongly agreed,” Chelsea Clinton said in one email laying out proposed changes at the foundation), it proved not to be so simple. Her efforts set off a cascade of grievances, gossip and infighting as her ascendance diminished longtime aides Bill Clinton often referred to as surrogate children.
Chelsea Clinton had already started to fret about the intermingling of foundation business with Teneo, the corporate consulting firm co-founded by Douglas Band, one of her father’s closest aides. She suggested an audit of the charity and wrote that she was concerned that Teneo’s principals had been “hustling” business at foundation gatherings.
Chelsea Clinton, 31 at the time, had held various jobs, including positions at McKinsey and Avenue Capital, a hedge fund owned by a major Clinton donor. She had degrees from Stanford, Oxford and Columbia but had not quite found a way to harness her academic wherewithal.
To Band, who had remained loyal to Bill Clinton when others abandoned him post-impeachment and who was instrumental in building the Clinton Foundation from scratch, Chelsea Clinton seemed like a dilettante.
In response to the scrutiny, Band wrote a 13-page memo outlining how he had raised many millions of dollars for the foundation from Teneo’s corporate clients, including Coca-Cola and Dow Chemical, without taking a fee. In the memo, which WikiLeaks released this week, Band also described arranging tens of millions of dollars in income for Bill Clinton in the form of lucrative speeches and consulting arrangements, some of them from foundation donors.
“We have solicited and obtained, as appropriate, in-kind services for the president and his family — for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like,” Band wrote.
The subtext was clear: Where Chelsea Clinton saw a messy overlapping of business and charity that could haunt both parents, Band saw an ungrateful daughter who was naive about how what he called “Bill Clinton Inc.” made its money, and how her own expensive lifestyle was funded.
“I just don’t think any of this is right and that we should be treated this way when no one else is, only because CVC has nothing better to do and need justify her existence,” he wrote in one email, using the initials for Chelsea Victoria Clinton.
Band, who had already planned to leave the foundation to focus on Teneo, often expressed frustration at the global charity’s nepotism, pointing to Chelsea Clinton’s installing her friends in central roles.
In a new statement Thursday, Band said that Teneo, “never received any financial benefit or benefit of any kind” for its work for the Clinton Foundation. He did not elaborate about what gifts Bill Clinton obtained from his speech and consulting clients.
Bill Clinton, who does not use email, is almost absent in the battles, mentioned only in passing as “Dad” or by his initials, “WJC.”
In another email, Chelsea Clinton alludes to her father’s feelings about the tensions at his foundation. “Doug apparently kept telling my dad I was trying to push him out, take over — and Dad kept asking him — has she said that to you? To anyone? She’s never said it to me,” she wrote. Band has said the exchange Chelsea Clinton describes never happened.
If the emails show Chelsea Clinton getting a crash course on the cutthroat world on the periphery of the Clinton family, they also show a woman devoted to her parents and very much her mother’s daughter.
Last year, a close aide to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, wrote in a message to John Podesta, the Clinton adviser whose email account was later hacked, that the Clintons’ house in Chappaqua, N.Y., had to be cleaned after an employee had a stomach virus so that Hillary Clinton could baby-sit for Chelsea’s daughter, Charlotte.
“Sanitizing the house all day so the baby can be there,” Abedin wrote. “WJC was out buying clorox wipes yesterday!”
Even when emailing with her parents, Chelsea Clinton was not shy about delivering blistering criticism, as when she wrote to them after a trip to Haiti, which the foundation was trying to help rebuild after the 2010 earthquake. “To say I was profoundly disturbed by what I saw — and didn’t see — would be an understatement,” Clinton wrote to her mother. “The incompetence is mind numbing.”
In rare instances, her emails contained an emotion that she never publicly shows: despair.
“I am sure there are three sides as my grandmother would say — his, hers and the truth,” Clinton wrote to Podesta amid the foundation disputes. “All of it makes me very sad.”
Meanwhile, in emails published Thursday, a longtime friend of Podesta — months after Hillary Clinton acknowledged she had used a private email server for work messages — lashed out. “Do we actually know who told Hillary she could use a private email? And has that person been drawn and quartered?” asked Neera Tanden, president of the pro-Clinton think tank, the Center for American Progress. Top State Department officials have said no one in the agency provided such permission and they did not become aware until as late as 2014 that she had used a private server to conduct all her government business.