ABC News has obtained State Department e-mails that shed light on Bill Clinton’s lucrative speaking engagements and show he and the Clinton Foundation tried to get approval for invitations related to two of the most repressive countries in the world -- North Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
While Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State, Bill Clinton earned speaking fees around the globe totaling more than $48 million -- speeches that had to be vetted by the State Department to ensure there were no conflicts of interest with his wife's work as America's top diplomat. These newly revealed emails show speech requests that the State Department refused to approve.
The emails -- which have come to light because of a public records request by the conservative group Citizens United, which sued the State Department to get the documents -- show just how far Bill Clinton was willing to go to earn those lucrative fees -- seeking approval for appearances with ties to two of the most brutal countries in the world.
One email sent in June 2012 to Clinton State Department chief of staff Cheryl Mills from Amitabh Desai, a foreign policy director at the Clinton Foundation, passed on an invitation for a speaking engagement in Brazzaville, Congo.
The catch? The dictators of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo would both be attending -- and required photos with Bill Clinton. The speaking fee? A whopping $650,000.
The Harry Walker Agency, which worked with Clinton on coordinating his speeches, recommended declining the invite, noting the particularly grim human rights record of the Democratic Republic of Congo and its leader, Joseph Kabila.
"Given President Kabila and others invovlement [sic] we anticipate you'll want us to quickly decline" the Harry Walker representative wrote.
The speaking agency's vetting of the Democratic Republic of the Congo noted the “prevalence and intensity of sexual violence against women in eastern Congo is widely described as the worst in the world.”
Desai forwarded the e-mail to Mills and other State Department employees, including long-time Clinton aide Huma Abedin, asking for state’s opinion on whether Bill Clinton could do the speech but give the money to the Clinton Foundation.
"WJC wants know what state thinks of it if he took it 100% for the foundation,” Desai wrote using Clinton’s initials. “We'd welcome your thoughts."
A second email thread in May 2012 shows another potentially thorny event -- subject line: "North Korea invitation."
“Is it safe to assume [the U.S. Government] would have concerns about WJC accepting the attached invitation related to North Korea?” Desai wrote in an e-mail to Mills and two other State Department officials –Jake Sullivan, then-director of Policy Planning Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff, and Michael Fuchs, then a special assistant to the Secretary of State who now serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Strategy and Multilateral Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Mills two-word response? "Decline it."
But the Clinton Foundation followed up three weeks later, saying the invite came via Hillary Clinton's brother Tony Rodham.
"We would be grateful for any specific concerns that we could share,” Desai wrote. “Tony is seeing WJC in a couple hours.”
Mills wrote back to tell Bill Clinton, “If he needs more let him know his wife knows and I am happy to call him secure when he is near a secure line."
There is no further explanation of what the North Korea related event entailed in the documents provided to Citizens United by the State Department.
The Office of President Clinton confirmed to ABC News that the former president did not deliver either of the speeches.
"As a matter of course, all requests were run by the State Department. Ultimately, the President did not give these speeches," Angel Urena, press secretary in the Office of President Clinton, told ABC News.
The Clinton spokesman contends Desai was not "pushing" for these speeches, but he was just seeking the facts.
ABC News reached a friend of the family speaking for Rodham who declined to comment on the nature of the North Korea invitation.
Prior to his wife’s confirmation as Secretary of State, Bill Clinton volunteered to submit information for proposed paid speeches to the Department of State's ethics agency to “review for any real or apparent conflict of interest with the duties of Secretary of State.”
Clinton defenders are likely to point to the emails as an example of the system set up by the Clintons working. Speaking requests were sent to the State Department, which had the final word.
Still, the exchanges open a rare window on the private communications between aides to the former president, the Clinton Foundation, and Secretary Clinton's State Department during the four-year period that Hillary Clinton served as the nation's top diplomat. Those relationships and communications have drawn political scrutiny in recent months, with Republicans pouncing on episodes of potential conflicts of interests.
Bill Clinton delivered 215 speeches totaling over $48 million in the four years Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.
This is the first batch of e-mails released as part of the public records requests originally submitted by Citizens United back in 2014. Earlier this year, the organization filed a lawsuit after the State Department failed to provide the e-mails. The State Department delivered the material to Citizens United last week, and more messages are expected to come in the next month.
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