The issue concerns the State Department's location for a new facility in Lagos
One of the Chagoury brothers had been a big donor to the Clinton Foundation
Hillary and Bill Clinton’s ties to two influential Lebanese-Nigerian businessmen are raising fresh questions about whether the State Department showed favoritism to Clinton Foundation donors – an issue that has continued to dog the Democratic nominee during the 2016 presidential contest.
Newly released documents, obtained by the conservative watchdog group Citizens United and provided to CNN, show the State Department was interested in purchasing land for a new US consulate in a development called Eko Atlantic on the coast of Lagos in 2013, in a story first reported on by Fox News. The development is managed by Ronald Chagoury and funded by an umbrella company owned by him and his brother Gilbert Chagoury.
Responding to the report, the State Department said this week that the land was considered but not acquired.
Clinton had left the State Department before it sent a letter three years ago expressing interest in possibly buying the property. While the letter was sent after she had left office, the State Department had identified the Eko project as a potential location when Clinton was still secretary of state in 2012. Asked if Clinton was cognizant of that, a department spokeswoman said earlier this week, “I’m not aware she was.”
“You know we’ve not, as of today, contracted or acquired any property for a new consulate in Lagos,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Wednesday. “We have over the past couple of years identified, and looked at, and evaluated multiple properties. We’ve had conversations about multiple properties with their property owners and their representatives because we are looking, as we’ve noted, to acquire property for a new consulate in Lagos. And this process is in no way connected to or subject to individual preferences or pressure … it’s managed by career real estate industry professionals.”
But the Clinton Foundation’s ties to Gilbert Chagoury and Eko Atlantic have led critics to allege the development was given special consideration.
Gilbert Chagoury has donated over $1 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to the foundation’s website, which also notes that The Chagoury Group – run by the brothers – pledged to commit $1 billion to fight coastal erosion through the Eko Atlantic development as part of a Clinton Foundation initiative on climate change. Eko Atlantic is built on reclaimed land protected by a sea wall.
Bill Clinton attended the project’s dedication ceremony in 2013 and was photographed with the Chagoury brothers, and he appears in Eko Atlantic promotional videos.
“Another week and another example of Clinton-Chagoury corruption,” Citizens United President David N. Bossie told CNN in a statement. “A month after Bill Clinton visits a Gilbert and Ronald Chagoury-run land project in Nigeria, the U.S. State Department wants to buy the same land. Who could be so lucky? A major donor to the Clinton Foundation, that’s who.”
Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said, “Citizens United is a right-wing group that’s been attacking the Clintons since the 1990s and, once again, is trying to make something out of nothing. This draft letter was written after Hillary Clinton had already left the State Department and it never led to any deal.”
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Gilbert Chagoury, told CNN in a statement, that “Eko Atlantic was just one of several locations being explored by the United States for its new consular facilities in Lagos.”
He continued, “Considering its size, modern infrastructure, technology and security, it should come as no surprise that the United States government and other governments from around the world are considering Eko Atlantic.”
This isn’t the first time the State Department has faced questions about the Chagourys.
Last week, documents released by the conservative legal watchdog group Judicial Watch revealed a top Clinton Foundation official had asked two Hillary Clinton aides at the State Department to put Gilbert Chagoury in contact with the department’s “substance person” on Lebanon. Emails were exchanged, but a meeting never took place.
The Clinton Foundation has become a lightning rod for criticism in the presidential race.
On Tuesday, The Boston Globe published an editorial calling for the foundation to “remove a political – and actual – distraction and stop accepting funding.”
And former Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter, told The New York Daily News over the weekend the foundation should be disbanded if she’s elected.
“I definitely think if she wins the presidency, they have to disband it. I know it’ll be hard for President (Bill) Clinton because he cares very deeply about what the foundation has done,” Rendell said. “It’d be impossible to keep the foundation open without at least the appearance of a problem.”
A US official also told CNN last week that the FBI and Department of Justice met several months ago to discuss opening a public corruption case into the Clinton Foundation, after the FBI received notification from a bank of suspicious activity from a foreigner who had donated to the foundation.
Clinton has yet to address the future of the foundation or her husband’s role in it should she win the White House. At a CNN town hall in June, she told Anderson Cooper, “We’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.”