KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait - Over the weekend, former President Bill Clinton enthusiastically endorsed the prospect that his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, might join the Obama Administration as Secretary of State. “If he decided to ask her and they did it together,” the former president said, “I think she’ll be really great as a secretary of state.”
Mr. Clinton delivered those remarks at an international economic symposium in Kuwait City sponsored by the National Bank of Kuwait, which said the former president would “share with a select audience his perspective on the issues likely to shape the future prospects of the region.”
It is precisely that kind of paid speech, which Mr. Clinton delivered 54 times last year for a total of $10.1 million in fees, that has complicated the vetting process that Mrs. Clinton is undergoing by the Obama transition team. “Whatever happens or doesn’t happen is between Obama and her,” Mr. Clinton said.
That may be, but Mr. Clinton’s post-presidential life as a globe-trotting philanthropist, business consultant and speech-giver poses the highest hurdle for Mrs. Clinton to overcome if President-elect Barack Obama chooses to nominate her as secretary of state, according to aides of the Clintons and Mr. Obama.
The Obama transition team is focused on the wide array of Mr. Clinton’s post-presidential activities, some details of which have not been made public. This list includes the identity of most of the donors to his foundation, the source of some of his speaking fees — he has earned as much as $425,000 for a one-hour speech — and his work for the billionaire investor Ronald W. Burkle.
The vetting of Mr. Clinton’s myriad philanthropic and business dealings is “complicated, and it may be the complications that are causing hesitation on both sides,” said Abner J. Mikva, one of Mr. Obama’s closest supporters and a White House counsel during the Clinton administration. “There would have to be full disclosure as to who all were contributors to his library and foundation. I think they’d have to be made public.”
While aides to the president-elect declined Monday to discuss what sort of requirements would make it possible for Mrs. Clinton to serve as secretary of state, they said Mr. Obama would not formally offer her the job unless he was satisfied that there would be no conflicts posed by Mr. Clinton’s activities abroad.
Associates of the Clintons said that Mr. Clinton was likely to have to make significant concessions and that he was inclined to do so. Among other things, they said, he would probably have to agree not to take money for speeches from foreign businesses that have a stake in the actions of the American government. Another obvious issue, Democratic lawyers said, would be whether Mr. Clinton’s foundation should accept money from foreign governments, businesses or individuals for the foundation’s philanthropic activities and if it should disclose those donors publicly.
“The problem is it’s going to require some sacrifice by him,” said a former Clinton aide who is not involved in the discussions but did not want to be identified because the talks are confidential. “If he’s not willing to do that, it could blow up.”
One proposal, floated by Mr. Mikva and several other aides involved in the vetting process, would be for Mr. Clinton to separate himself from the activities of his foundation, including raising money.
“It’s not just what he does or says — it’s the fact that the foundation is involved with foreign countries, some of which might well be in conflict with U.S. policy,” Mr. Mikva said. “It’s more than a legal problem — there are ethical problems and appearance problems.”
Several longtime associates of the Clintons said the former president would be an asset to Mrs. Clinton if she were appointed Secretary of State. The Obama administration “would be able to use Bill Clinton as the ultimate special envoy inside the tent,” one longtime associate said.
Since the former president established the William J. Clinton Foundation in 1998, it has raised more than $500 million, a sum that allowed him to build his steel-and-glass presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, and create the Clinton Global Initiative, which has done good deeds all over the world, including working to eradicate AIDS in Africa. Much of that money has been raised from foreign sources.