The former president has agreed to take steps to minimize conflicts or the appearance of them, including submitting future speaking engagements and business dealings to the State Department or White House for approval. Under the arrangement, first reported by The New York Times Sunday, Clinton will release the names of more than 200,000 donors to his foundation.
The former president could prove to be an asset for the new administration. In an interview in October with Joe Klein of Time magazine, Obama said he had talked with Bill Clinton about the possibility of serving as a special envoy to ease tensions between India and Pakistan — a task that takes on special importance now.
Bill Clinton has been "foursquare" in favor of his wife's appointment, says Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of State who has been a friend since they were Rhodes Scholars together. "I know his initial reaction to the idea was, 'She'd be great; (Obama's) smart to offer it.' …
"She obviously had to make some pretty basic decisions" whether to accept the job, Talbott says. "It's a major career change."
She has made those before.
Clinton was a Little Rock lawyer and activist on children's issues when her husband was governor of Arkansas. After he was elected president in 1992, she headed the task force charged with his signature domestic initiative, on health care.
The proposal she helped draft failed spectacularly, never coming to a vote on Capitol Hill and contributing to devastating Democratic setbacks in the congressional elections in 1994. Hillary Clinton, a political lightning rod in the United States, became increasingly engaged in global travels and programs.
"She was very interested in a combination of things that led her to get more active on foreign issues," recalls Madeleine Albright, who was U.N. ambassador in President Clinton's first term and secretary of State in his second. She and Hillary Clinton regularly met for lunch in Albright's private dining room at the State Department.
"She could see what her voice meant when she got involved in a particular issue," Albright says. "There were specific areas she got interested in — human rights and women's issues and international health issues — and then more and more that gave her the capability of understanding developments in those countries."
During eight years in the White House, Hillary Clinton visited 82 countries. She met with dozens of foreign leaders including President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, president Ion Iliescu of Romania and prime minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan. (In her 2003 memoir, Living History, Clinton says Bhutto commiserated on their mutual challenges. "Women who take on tough issues and stake out new territory are often on the receiving end of ignorance," Bhutto told her.)
One of Clinton's most embarrassing missteps during this year's presidential campaign came when she exaggerated her experiences as first lady, giving audiences a vivid account of landing in Bosnia in 1996 under sniper fire. CBS footage of the trip — posted on YouTube this spring and viewed more than 2 million times since then — shows her and daughter Chelsea at a placid welcome ceremony on the airport tarmac, greeted by a young girl with a long braid.