Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is President-elect Obama’s first choice for secretary of State but his aides are becoming exasperated by the Clinton camp’s pokey response to demands for extensive information about former President Bill Clinton’s finances, according to numerous Democrats involved in the process.
“The sense among the no-drama Obama world is: This is well on its way to winning best Oscar for drama,” said one well-connected Democratic official.
There are signs, however, that the Clintons may move decisively to satisfy the vetting requests in coming days, clearing the way for a “Team of Rivals” cabinet that would bring the president-elect’s opponent for the Democratic nomination into his historic administration.
Democratic officials make it sound like the job has been all but offered to her. But the ball is in her court to show that the former president’s many foreign and financial entanglements would not pose huge conflicts of interest if she were the nation’s chief diplomat, the officials said.
Obama isn’t likely to formally offer the post to Clinton unless he’s given assurances Bill Clinton’s global charitable foundation won’t create future conflicts of interest with foreign governments, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Clinton Global Initiative has earned widespread plaudits for its efforts to eradicate AIDS, malaria and poverty in Africa.
But it could prove problematic for Obama if the former president continues to seek donations from foreign countries – at the same time his wife is asking them for diplomatic concessions as Secretary of State. The Clinton Global initiative, which has raised more than $30 billion since 2005, has solicited major donations from a handful of foreign governments, including a $1 billion pledge from Norway in 2007.
Obama’s vetting team expressed similar worries about Bill Clinton’s overseas fundraising when Hillary Clinton was briefly considered for the vice-presidency, former Clinton aides say.”
"I doubt that they are looking for an excuse to pick someone else,” a neutral Democratic official said, “but rather are genuinely concerned that Bill Clinton’s work, while worthy, would be greatly complicating if she were SecState."
Over the weekend, Obama advisers began to get a little scratchy about the Clintons’ response to vetting requests.
““The ball is very much in her court, but the president's finances have been a major point of sensitivity from day one,” the well-connected Democratic official explained. “Given that everyone's mystified by how deliberately public the Clintons have made this once secret process, the assumption is either that the Clintons are trying to use the public buzz to steamroll their way in, create a sense of inevitability that overcomes those concerns, or that it's just a matter of time before they … satisfy vetting somehow, some way. Otherwise, after all this speculation, there’ll be a permanent dark cloud hanging over his finances.”
The former president was in was in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and Kuwait City, Kuwait, over the past four days and returned to the United States on Monday morning.
Friends outside government said it seems reasonable for a couple to want to talk about a life decision over the kitchen table rather than over a crackly cell connection 10 time zones away.
In Kuwait, the former president sure sounded like a man who wanted the job for his wife, so he might be expected to do what is necessary for her to earn Obama’s nod.
AFP quoted the former president as saying at an economic conference sponsored by the National Bank of Kuwait: “If he decided to ask her and they did it together, I think she'll be really great as a secretary of state. … She orked very hard for his election after the primary fight with him, and so did I, and we were very glad that he won and we have a lot of confidence that he can do a good job. But she didn't do what she did with the hope or expectation of getting any kind of job offer, much less having this discussed.”