Qatari officials had pledged the money in 2011 to mark former President Bill Clinton’s 65th birthday, and sought a meeting with him in 2012. That was one of the many explosive revelations from Hillary’s e-mails released by WikiLeaks, including one sent by the foundation and her presidential campaign manager in 2016, John Podesta, acknowledging the donation.
The controversy over the donation and Qatar’s ties to extremists was buried in the high-profile political mudslinging between her campaign and that of Donald Trump. The US media focus shifted from questions about the donation to assertions that the WikiLeaks e-mails were the result of Russian hacking to help Trump.
As the issue of the donation seemed to quell, so did concerns about Qatar’s ties to terrorists, with no follow-up after Trump was sworn in as president in January 2017. But now that the election is over, and amid new revelations about Qatar’s support of extremist elements and its close ties to Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, it might be wise to analyze Doha’s intentions in making the donation.
Was it merely a gesture toward a former president who was well-liked in the Arab World? Or was it intended to undermine concerns held by Hillary, who at the time of the donation was expected to easily defeat Trump? Would a President Hillary Clinton continue to accept Qatari denials?
The donation may not have been the only one Qatar gave to the foundation. In the final days of before the presidential election, the foundation acknowledged on its website receiving much more from Qatar, as much as $5 million over the years.
It would not be the only country to believe it can influence the Clintons with top-dollar donations. The foundation has received donations from other foreign governments, including Britain and Algeria. Another WikiLeaks e-mail from the Clinton Foundation noted that it had received from many sources more than $21 million in connection with Bill’s birthday celebration.
Qatari officials have always refused to discuss the donation, and the state-run “news” operation Al-Jazeera has never really opened the issue to serious revelations. When information about the donation first surfaced in 2015, Hillary came under pressure to address the matter, but refused.
Instead, Bill spoke about financial ties to Doha and other governments. He said Qatar had “done much” to distance itself from extremist groups in the Middle East, although that seems to contradict the facts.
One week before the $1 million donation was confirmed on Nov. 4, 2016, days prior to the election, then-President Barack Obama was taking steps to solidify ties with Qatar.
Doha has always refused to discuss the donation, and the state-run ‘news’ operation Al-Jazeera has never really opened the issue to serious revelations.
His administration took the unusual step of issuing a public statement praising Doha’s role in the fight against Daesh, and its “positive role” in denying extremists funds. Maybe he hoped to take the edge off longstanding concerns about Qatar’s ties to Hillary, who everyone expected to win the election.
Then-senior Treasury Department official Daniel Glaser was in Qatar meeting with Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani when the statement was released.
The Qataris may have been spooked when it was discovered in the WikiLeaks e-mails that Hillary had expressed serious concerns that Doha was providing “clandestine financial and logistic support” to Daesh and other extremists in the Middle East.
Glaser’s visit was intended to prevent the spark from turning into a fire, and Qatar’s role in supporting extremists fell to the news backburners as the mainstream US media found itself battling with President Trump.
The Clintons believed Hillary would win the election, so why waste any time cleaning up the Qatari donation mess? As president, she could just brush it under the carpet. Trump’s victory was a shock to the Clintons, the mainstream news media, Al-Jazeera and Qatar’s royal family.
Americans were too busy after the election sorting through fake news, accusations of media bias and Trump’s stand on Muslims to wonder whether concerns about Qatar might result in a re-evaluation of bilateral relations and the status of the US military presence at Al-Udeid air base.
The battle between Trump and the media continues to dominate the American debate. But one year on, it might be important to look back at Qatar’s ties to Daesh, its high-priced lobbying efforts to influence the Obama administration, and whether the $1 million donation was just a gesture or a direct effort to buy Hillary’s silence.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American columnist and author. Email him at [email protected]