Stepping aside for un­prece­dented pol­i­tics

An emo­tional Bill Clin­ton eyes pos­si­ble exit from foun­da­tion that car­ries his name

The Daily Herald - - NATION & WORLD - By Julie Pace

WASH­ING­TON — When Bill Clin­ton told the staff of his global char­ity he would have to step down if Hil­lary Clin­ton won the White House, he was vividly clear about how that felt: Worse than a root canal, he said.

For Clin­ton, the foun­da­tion that bears his name has shaped much of his post-White House le­gacy, help­ing trans­form him from a pop­u­lar yet scan­dal­tainted for­mer pres­i­dent into an in­ter­na­tional phi­lan­thropist and hu­man­i­tar­ian. But the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion is also the fo­cus of elec­tion-year scru­tiny — pushed along by Don­ald Trump — about the Demo­cratic power cou­ple’s abil­ity and will­ing­ness to sep­a­rate the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s wealthy con­trib­u­tors from past and pos­si­ble fu­ture govern­ment roles.

The de­ci­sions sur­round­ing the foun­da­tion’s fu­ture are the lat­est chap­ter in an un­prece­dented part­ner­ship of per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions. While po­lit­i­cal spouses — Hil­lary Clin­ton among them — of­ten put aside their own goals, never be­fore has that been re­quired of a for­mer pres­i­dent.

Friends and as­so­ci­ates say that while Bill Clin­ton knows his role in the char­ity has to change, set­tling on how and when he might walk away has been emo­tional. He’s also said to be deeply frus­trated with the crit­i­cism shad­ow­ing his po­ten­tial exit.

“We’re try­ing to do good things. If there’s some­thing wrong with cre­at­ing jobs and sav­ing lives, I don’t know what it is,” he said last week.

Mark Upde­grove, the di­rec­tor of the Lyn­don B. John­son pres­i­den­tial li­brary and au­thor of “Sec­ond Acts: Pres­i­den­tial Lives and Lega­cies Af­ter the White House,” said that while the foun­da­tion has un­ques­tion­ably done good work around the world, the for­mer pres­i­dent has no choice but to step aside if his wife wins.

“Bill Clin­ton is smart enough to know that as much as the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion might help to aug­ment his le­gacy, Hil­lary Clin­ton be­com­ing pres­i­dent will be a far greater le­gacy than any­thing he him­self can do as a for­mer pres­i­dent,” Upde­grove said.

The foun­da­tion made some ad­just­ments af­ter she be­came sec­re­tary of state, but it has still faced ques­tions about how rig­or­ously fire­walls were up­held that were meant to sep­a­rate donors from her govern­ment work.

An As­so­ci­ated Press re­view of Clin­ton’s cal­en­dars from a twoyear stretch show that more than half of those she met with from out­side of govern­ment had made con­tri­bu­tions to the foun­da­tion.

For Trump and other Repub­li­cans, the Clin­tons’ over­lap­ping worlds are rife with eth­i­cal lapses. And for some Democrats, even that per­cep­tion is wor­ri­some in an elec­tion year where con­trol of the White House and Congress are at stake.

Mean­while, there’s an odd re­al­ity of mod­ern Amer­i­can pol­i­tics: What pres­i­dents do af­ter leav­ing the White House can shape their le­gacy al­most as much as their ten­ure in the Oval Of­fice.

It can be an op­por­tu­nity to bol­ster pres­i­den­tial suc­cesses and try to make up for fail­ures. And those who leave of­fice rel­a­tively young — Clin­ton was 54 — can spend many more years on th­ese le­gacy projects than they did in the White House.

“For the last 15 years, it has been his life,” said Tina Flournoy, Clin­ton’s chief of staff. Dur­ing the an­nounce­ment of his po­ten­tial de­par­ture, she said he noted that his role as head of the foun­da­tion was “the long­est job he has held.”

Jimmy Carter, who was seen by some as an in­ef­fec­tual oneterm pres­i­dent, has dra­mat­i­cally re­shaped his im­age with decades of work on global is­sues. Ge­orge W. Bush left of­fice deeply un­pop­u­lar, but has been ap­plauded for ded­i­cat­ing his post-White House years to HIV pro­grams in Africa and work with wounded mil­i­tary vet­er­ans.

Bill Clin­ton’s foun­da­tion be­gan largely to sup­port the build­ing of his pres­i­den­tial li­brary in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas. As his postWhite House am­bi­tions grew, so did the foun­da­tion, bal­loon­ing into a $2 bil­lion char­ity fo­cused on global health, cli­mate change and other in­ter­na­tional ef­forts.

The for­mer pres­i­dent has lever­aged his con­tacts to fill the foun­da­tion’s cof­fers and trav­eled the world to meet with peo­ple helped by its work. He’s the star of the an­nual Clin­ton Global Ini­tia­tive meet­ings in New York, a min­gling of in­ter­na­tional power play­ers and celebri­ties that has be­come the hottest in­vi­ta­tion in the phil­an­thropic com­mu­nity.

The plan for the foun­da­tion’s fu­ture in the event of a Clin­ton vic­tory this fall in­cludes daugh­ter Chelsea Clin­ton re­main­ing. For­eign and cor­po­rate do­na­tions will be halted, though the foun­da­tion is look­ing for ways to spin off some pro­grams and keep them run­ning.

The prospect of Bill Clin­ton stepping away from the foun­da­tion that has been the main out­let for his en­ergy and in­tel­lect has re­newed dis­cus­sions about how he would fill his time in his wife’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. Peo­ple close to the Clin­tons say they fully ex­pect him to seek a prom­i­nent role. Hil­lary Clin­ton has even raised the prospect of putting her hus­band in charge of “re­vi­tal­iz­ing the econ­omy.”

“He just has to feel pro­duc­tive ev­ery sin­gle day,” said Susie Tompkins Buell, a long­time Clin­ton friend. “If he gets into another sit­u­a­tion where he’s go­ing to have that abil­ity, he’s go­ing to be fine.”


For­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton helps paint a jun­gle gym dur­ing a visit to a Clin­ton Foun­da­tion project in Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa, on Aug. 8, 2015.

Clin­ton speaks dur­ing a ple­nary ses­sion at the Clin­ton Global Ini­tia­tive Mid­dle East & Africa meet­ing in Mar­rakech, Morocco, in May 2015. He has chan­neled his en­ergy into the global phi­lan­thropy that bears his name and has shaped so much of his post-pres­i­den­tial le­gacy.

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