Amid Calls from Trump, F.B.I. Renews Questions Over Clinton Foundation

Published in The New York Times | On January 5, 2018

F.B.I. agents have renewed questions about the dealings of the Clinton Foundation amid calls from President Trump and top Republicans for the Justice Department to take a fresh look at politically charged accusations of corruption, people familiar with the investigation said on Friday.

They said that agents have interviewed people connected to the foundation about whether any donations were made in exchange for political favors while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. Career prosecutors had shut down the investigation in 2016 for lack of evidence.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump branded his rival “Crooked Hillary” and promised to send her to jail if he won. He briefly struck a more magnanimous tone after the election and said he had no interest in pushing for a prosecution.

But as his legal problems have mounted, Mr. Trump has returned to his attacks on his favorite target. With four former aides facing federal charges and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, investigating him and his campaign, Mr. Trump has openly called for Mrs. Clinton to be investigated and one of her top aides to be imprisoned.

It is unclear exactly when the F.B.I. renewed its interest in the Clinton Foundation, or whether agents were instructed by anyone in Washington to start investigating again. But the F.B.I.’s decision to take additional investigative steps is sure to outrage Democrats who will see the inquiry as an attempt by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to placate the president.

As Mr. Mueller’s investigation has intensified, the president and his conservative allies have mounted blistering counterattacks trying to discredit the F.B.I. and federal prosecutors. Mr. Trump has described the investigation as a witch hunt and accused F.B.I. leadership under the bureau’s former director, James B. Comey, of being biased toward Mrs. Clinton.

Some congressional Republicans have sought to cast doubt on an explosive dossier of unsubstantiated claims about Mr. Trump. On Friday, two influential Republican senators asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the author of the dossier, Christopher Steele, a respected former British spy, lied to the federal authorities.

Mr. Trump’s calls to investigate Mrs. Clinton break with longstanding presidential practice. Since the Watergate scandal, the Justice Department has conducted criminal investigations largely free of political influence from the White House. Mr. Trump, by contrast, has declared that he has an “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”

The Clinton Foundation dismissed the investigation as politicized.

“Time after time, the Clinton Foundation has been subjected to politically motivated allegations, and time after time, these allegations have been proven false,” Craig Minassian, a spokesman for the foundation, said in a statement.

Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, added: “Let’s call this what it is: a sham. This is a philanthropy that does life-changing work, which Republicans have tried to turn into a political football. It’s disgraceful, and should be concerning to all Americans.”

The foundation, which was formed in 1997 during Bill Clinton’s presidency and has raised roughly $2 billion, has been a repeated target for Republicans. In 2015, the conservative author Peter Schweizer published “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” an investigation of donations to the foundation made by foreign entities.

Mr. Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute, where Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, was a founder and the executive chairman.

The Justice Department, in a letter sent in November to the House Judiciary Committee, said prosecutors would examine allegations that donations to the Clinton Foundation were tied to a 2010 decision by the Obama administration to allow a Russian nuclear agency to buy Uranium One, a company that owned access to uranium in the United States, as well as other issues.

The letter appeared to be a direct response to Mr. Trump’s statement days earlier that he was disappointed with Mr. Sessions for not investigating Mrs. Clinton. An administration official said the F.B.I. had taken investigative steps related to the foundation inquiry before the Justice Department sent the letter to the judiciary committee.

In the letter, the Justice Department wrote that the attorney general had directed “senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues.” Those prosecutors would make “recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a special counsel.”

Several F.B.I. offices, including those in New York and Little Rock, Ark., had been investigating the foundation. At the direction of Mark F. Giuliano, then the deputy director of the F.B.I., the investigations were consolidated at F.B.I. headquarters in Washington and placed under the supervision of career public integrity prosecutors.

The decision by senior F.B.I. officials and prosecutors not to move forward with the case angered some agents while others believed there was little evidence to support more aggressive steps during a presidential campaign.

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