WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is asking his wide network of supporters to help him dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton and her family foundation's foreign donations. It’s a clever tactical move for a presidential candidate who seems eager to make the Clintons' donations a central talking point on the campaign trail. And it illustrates just how thirsty Republicans are to turn a book due out next month into their central attack line.
Republicans are salivating at the possible attack lines in the much-publicized coming book “Clinton Cash” by Peter Schweizer. The book promises to outline conflicts of interest implicating Bill and Hillary Clinton as their foundation accepted donations from foreign entities during her 2009-2013 tenure as secretary of state.
For now, Republicans have mostly been pushing questions with few answers, suggesting that wrongdoing occurred because of a lack of evidence to the contrary. The decision by Clinton to delete 30,000 emails from her personal server that she used while secretary of state has only fueled that speculation. But now her GOP opponents are hoping they will be able to move from suggestions to facts.
While Republicans were less optimistic about using Clinton’s email debacle alone against her in the campaign, party strategists expect more success when the issue is compounded with the foundation taking foreign donations. Republicans hope this will feed a successful narrative against Clinton -- that she is secretive and thinks she’s above the law.
And Republicans are holding off on the sort of rhetoric against Clinton that has gotten them into trouble before -- like criticisms that have seemed over the top or that the Clinton camp has been able to shoot down as driven by sexism, as when they've called her "old" or "calculating." The donations provide the kind of story that the GOP can mostly wait and let the press take aim for them. Several media outlets -- including Fox News, the Washington Post and the New York Times -- have worked out deals with Schweizer to receive advance information from the book to conduct their own "exclusive" reporting, according to the Post.
Clinton’s camp is aware of the danger and already has deployed supporters pre-emptively to try to knock down the arguments in the book. “I think this is a political put-up job, and I can smell it from a mile away,” longtime Clinton ally David Brock, who runs the liberal Media Matters, said on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" Tuesday. He pointed out that publisher HarperCollins -- part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation empire, which also owns Fox -- has already said the book doesn’t make any allegations of illegal or unethical activity. “So I think what we’re going to be left with here is 100 percent innuendo.”
The issue could quickly become very complicated for Republicans, some party insiders in Washington warn. Many of the donors that backed the Clinton Foundation and have been discussed as potential conflicts for Clinton -- like TransCanada Corp., which wants to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline -- have usually backed Republican interests. Energy companies -- and the lobbyists and executives tied to them -- that are pushing Keystone have repeatedly backed Republicans.
"In a presidential race this expensive, Hillary's money connections may seem like an inviting target," a Republican strategist said. "However, GOP candidates should be careful -- sometimes the interconnected relationships between donors can result in unintended collateral damage."
But that won’t stop the Republicans like Paul or Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who proclaim their freedom from establishment ties. Cruz took a swing at Clinton this weekend at a Republican event in New Hampshire, which attracted most of the GOP field. He poked at her absence from the event while alluding to the millions that the Clinton Foundation accepted from foreign entities for speaking fees, saying, “Y’all don’t have any foreign nations paying speakers, right?”
The New York Times reported that some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee got a preview of the content. Paul, who has said he is “aware” of what the book says, is already jumping on the attack -- even if he isn’t sure what the book contains is true. "These are very troubling accusations,” Paul said in an appearance on CNN earlier this month. “I can't prove the veracity of them."
Clinton supporter Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called foul that the briefing Republicans received was not extended to Democrats -- not an unusual practice in today's sharply partisan Congress. “As the longest-serving member of the committee, I was never briefed on the book, and I know of no other Democrats on the committee who were briefed on it. So if there was a briefing, it was clearly partisan in nature,” she said in a statement. "This is just another vicious, partisan and unfounded attack on Hillary Clinton."
Paul opted to post a form on his campaign website that asks, “Do you have additional information about the Clinton Foundation accepting foreign contributions?” He could benefit from such a wide attempt on crowdsourcing, but more importantly, he’s raising questions and Clinton and extending the narrative that the former secretary of state is hiding something. Plus, it’s a clever way for Paul to collect contact information from supporters -- who have to include their name and email address to make a submission.