| September 12, 2016 07:20 AM
New emails show Clinton Foundation staff pushed Hillary Clinton's State Department to approve a meeting between Bill Clinton and a powerful Russian oligarch as her agency lined up investors for a project under his purview.
The Clintons' relationship with Viktor Vekselberg, the billionaire whose name appears in the documents, has taken on new significance amid an expanding criminal investigation into his company. Last week, authorities raided the offices of Vekselberg's firm, Renova Group, following allegations of bribery from several of Renova's subsidiaries.
Vekselberg had been named head of a partnership dubbed the "Russian Silicon Valley" just three months before a Clinton Foundation employee began pushing the State Department to approve Bill Clinton's proposed meeting with Vekselberg and a handful of other Russian executives.
The emails, obtained by conservative-leaning Citizens United and provided first to the Washington Examiner, do not reveal any illegal activity on the part of the State Department, the Clintons or their foundation.
But the records shed light on one of many relationships that blurred the lines between the Clinton's political, financial and philanthropic pursuits while Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state.
Vekselberg's Renova Group has donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, donor records show. Another firm associated with Vekselberg, OC Oerlikon, donated $25,000 to the Clinton Foundation.
Renova's interests in mining, oil and telecommunications have helped Vekselberg become one of Russia's wealthiest individuals and an influential figure within the Kremlin.
Beginning in May 2010, Amitabh Desai, a Clinton Foundation employee who acted as a frequent liaison to the State Department on behalf of Bill Clinton, asked agency officials if they had any objections to the former president's plan to meet with a handful of Russian executives on an upcoming swing through the country.
"Would State have concerns about WJC seeing any of these folks?" Desai wrote on May 14, 2010, using Bill Clinton's initials. Vekselberg's name appeared on the list of Russian businessmen.
After receiving no reply, Desai asked senior members of Hillary Clinton's staff again 10 days later for their thoughts on Bill Clinton's proposed meetings. On June 3, 2010, Desai said he and the former president "urgently need feedback" about what he had described as a "possible trip to Russia."
Finally, after Desai entreated the State Department for a response to the list of names for the fourth time on June 7, 2010, Jake Sullivan, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, forwarded the request to another State Department official and asked: "What's the deal [with] this?"
In April of that year, Bill Clinton's staff had submitted to the State Department ethics office a request for the former president to deliver a paid speech in Moscow on June 28, 2010, an engagement that necessitated the trip to Russia that Desai described.
Renaissance Capital, a Russian investment bank, paid Bill Clinton $500,000 for that speech, according to his wife's financial disclosures from 2010. The State Department had given its approval for the trip just two days after Bill Clinton's office filed its request.
The former president's travel to Russia for the speech and potential meetings with Vekselberg and others came as Hillary Clinton's State Department labored to drum up interest in a technology-sharing project, led by Vekselberg, called Skolkovo.
Hailed as the Russian version of Silicon Valley, Skolkovo was conceived during President Obama's "Russia Reset" as a way to attract investors to Moscow-based technology start-ups.
Hillary Clinton, responsible for the mechanics of the Russia Reset, was tasked with finding companies to invest in and work with Skolkovo in the early months of her tenure.
Four days after Hillary Clinton met with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in March 2010, Medvedev announced that Vekselberg would head up the Skolkovo project.
Just one day after Hillary Clinton had a private phone call with John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, Medvedev met with Cisco executives in California. That same day, Vekselberg announced that Cisco and Boeing would invest in Skolkovo.
Both Cisco and Boeing are major Clinton Foundation donors. Cisco paid Bill Clinton $256,000 for a speech in Oct. 2010, just three months after Vekselberg's announcement that the firm would invest $1 billion in Skolkovo.
As Peter Schweizer, author of "Clinton Cash," noted in his report on the technology project, 17 of the 28 companies that were ultimately listed as "key partners" in Skolkovo were also Clinton Foundation donors.
The Clinton's relationship to Vekselberg continued throughout Hillary Clinton's time at the State Department.
In 2012, Desai approached members of Hillary Clinton's staff to determine whether they would have "concerns" about Vekselberg's attendance at an upcoming Clinton Global Initiative meeting, according to emails Citizens United obtained last year.
Vekselberg was reportedly questioned a year later during a 2013 investigation of alleged corruption within Skolkovo.
Russian security officials raided the Moscow offices of Renova last week amid "allegations that executives in firms controlled by Vekselberg had bribed regional officials," according to a Reuters report.
The new emails come as Hillary Clinton struggles to reconcile her claim that the Clinton Foundation posed no conflicts of interest for her family while she served as secretary of state with her pledge to eliminate foreign and corporate donations to the charity if she wins the presidency.
The Democratic nominee has ratcheted up her rhetoric against Russia in recent weeks, accusing her opponent of displaying dangerous affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But many of her past statements about the foundation and her ties to its donors have been thrown back into the spotlight amid new evidence from the FBI that Hillary Clinton's staff destroyed evidence sought by investigators and subsequently misrepresented their efforts to turn over documents.