Having a book thrown at them.

Photographer: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Bill and Hillary Brace for 'Clinton Cash'

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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I am going to take my heart in my hands and write about a book that I have not yet read. In my defense, it doesn't come out until May 5, but you’re going to be hearing a lot about it over the next few weeks.

That book is Peter Schweizer’s “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” and it reportedly details the ways in which foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation made the Clintons rich and, oh, maybe made Clinton’s State Department more friendly to projects that helped her donors.

Now, I liked Schweizer’s last book a lot. But I want to sound a note of caution on how to evaluate the book as snippets emerge, because proving this sort of malfeasance is apt to be a lot trickier than pointing to suggestive linkages. Two things to consider:

  1. Clinton’s scope for action wasn’t necessarily as large as you’d think. She was part of an administration, and she oversaw a large bureaucracy that was there before her and will be there long after. There’s a limit to how much she could personally intervene to do favors for donors, even if she wanted to.
  2. If the Clinton Foundation was getting a lot of foreign cash, it’s likely that some State Department projects, funded for unrelated reasons, would have benefited donors. What you’d like to see is some sense of the percentage of projects that did so, and their approval rates compared to non-donor-benefiting and donor-benefiting projects from previous administrations.

So read with caution. It’s not enough to show correlation; you also need to see a plausible mechanism (could the secretary of state plausibly have put her thumb on the scales here? Is there evidence that this happened?) and a pattern that differs substantially from her record on non-donor-related projects, as well as projects approved by predecessors and successors. That’s a pretty high bar of evidence to meet. Perhaps Schweizer has, but I will reserve judgment until I actually see the book.

It’s probably worth noting that Clinton herself has helped create fertile ground for such accusations. Routing all of her e-mail through a private server, then refusing to let anyone see anything except items selected by her personal staff, lends plausibility to accusations of this sort of malfeasance. I said previously that Hillary Clinton's campaign was going to remind us of everything we hated about the Bill Clinton administration, and this is one of them: the way plausible accusations of financial shenanigans kept popping up, from Hillary Clinton’s amazing personal success at cattle futures trading, to the Marc Rich pardon, and now to the Clinton Foundation and its rivers of foreign cash.

Being married to Bill has obviously given Hillary a great deal of name recognition and campaigning ability. But it has also left her with some liabilities, and not just the old scandals that will undoubtedly be dredged up. Young presidents who leave office generally look for some post-presidential career that monetizes their fame and gives them a sort of third act. Those efforts are obviously highly public -- and any criticisms will attach to the spouse as well as to the former president.

Fair or not, I expect that questions will continue to be asked about the Clinton Foundation, and every speech Bill Clinton has given in the last 15 years. Schweizer’s book may be the first serious problem for the Clinton campaign. But it will not be the last.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

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Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net