Elections

Lawsuit seeks records on 2 Clinton donors, questions influence on her decisions

The conservative group Citizens United filed a lawsuit Thursday demanding that the State Department turn over correspondence it hopes will help determine whether Hillary Clinton’s decisions as the nation’s top diplomat were swayed by a pair of wealthy donors to her family’s foundation.

Citizens United said in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that its public records requests for documents from the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act have gone unanswered for seven to 10 months.

“The only way to get results is to force bureaucrats into court,” David Bossie, Citizens United’s president and chairman, said in an interview.

The group had requested various electronic and written communications about two longtime political supporters of Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton – Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire businessman Gilbert Chagoury and Chicago securities trader Raj Fernando.

Chagoury has donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation. Fernando has contributed between $500,000 and $1 million.

Clinton’s office and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the suit.

Clinton, 67, is expected to announce her second run for the White House within weeks, according to those knowledgeable about her plans but not authorized to speak publicly.

Bossie said he wants to know whether Chagoury’s donations played any role in Clinton’s initial decision not to designate the Nigerian-based Boko Haram a terror group.

Some experts have said that the foreign policy and intelligence community was split about Boko Haram at the time. Only later was the group tied to al Qaida-affiliated groups and blamed for various attacks, rapes and kidnappings in Nigeria, including of over 200 schoolgirls in April 2014.

Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization when he became secretary in 2013.

Last month, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., raised the same questions about Chagoury’s donations and Boko Haram.

“We need to know if Mr. Chagoury had any influence in the decision not to designate Boko Haram (a foreign terrorist organization) or had any other influence with Sec. Clinton’s foreign policy decisions,” Vitter wrote in a letter to Kerry. He asked the State Department for documents involving Clinton’s decision not to support that designation.

News reports indicate Chagoury advised Sani Abacha, who was Nigeria’s de facto president from 1993-98 and whose reign was marked by human rights abuses. After Abacha died in 1998, Chagoury paid $300,000 to the new Nigerian government in exchange for immunity.

Fernando, CEO of Chopper Trading, a Chicago-based trading firm he founded in 2002, has raised money for President Barack Obama and Clinton. He also gave $30,000 to a political advocacy group, WomenCount, that has indirectly helped Clinton.

Fernando was appointed in 2011 to advise Clinton on security issues along with nuclear scientists, former cabinet secretaries and lawmakers. His appointment to the panel raised questions because he had no international security background. After ABC News contacted the State Department to ask about his qualifications, Fernando announced that he had stepped down.

Bossie said he is seeking public records to determine whether donations had anything to do with Fernando’s appointment.

Thursday’s lawsuit marks the fifth the group has filed in recent months after its Freedom of Information requests went unanswered at the State Department. The other lawsuits involve flight manifests for some of Clinton’s trips as secretary of state; communications among senior department officials, the Clinton Foundation and employees of Teneo, a company founded by Bill Clinton’s longtime adviser, Doug Band; as well as photos and video of Clinton’s overseas trips.

A judge set deadlines for the State Department to begin releasing Clinton’s flight manifests, but so far the group has only received four documents, which identify the agency staff authorized to travel on trips on Oct. 4, 2009, and May 25, 2009. No flight manifests were delivered. The next batch of information is due April 17.

“We’re going to get something from these lawsuits,” Bossie said. “It’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when.’”

The Clinton Foundation – now called the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation – has received millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments, businesses, individuals and non-governmental organizations around the globe, including some while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary of state, according to an analysis of 10 years of contributions by McClatchy.

After Obama tapped Clinton to be the nation’s top diplomat, the foundation agreed not to accept donations from foreign governments that had not previously contributed to the organization without a review by the State Department, and it consented to disclose a list of its donors each year. Recent news reports indicate the agreement did not always work.

At a news conference to primarily address the issue of her use of a private email account for government business, Clinton defended the foreign donations. “I am very proud of the work the foundation does,” she said. “I’m very proud of the hundreds of thousands of people who support the work of the foundation and the results that have been achieved for people here at home and around the world.”

Former President Clinton founded the charity, then called the William J. Clinton Foundation, in 2001 to address issues around the world, including health care, climate change and economic development. After leaving the State Department in 2013, Hillary Clinton joined the foundation.

The foundation is not required to publicly release its donors. The foundation says the organization continued to release donor information after Clinton left the State Department to be transparent.

The foundation website indicated that 65,499 individuals or entities donated since 2004, though it does not include exact donation amounts; does not give dates beyond indicating who gave in 2014; and does not identify information about the donors such as addresses or employers.

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