By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Clintons’ Kazakhstan problem

The New York Times fronts an absolutely brutal story today about Bill Clinton’s dubious dealings on behalf of a Canadian mining mogul.

According to the article, by Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr., the mogul, Frank Giustra, unexpectedly won a lucrative uranium-mining deal in Kazakhstan after Clinton flew to that country with him in 2005 and schmoozed the human-rights-abusing dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Giustra then turned around and donated $31 million to Clinton’s charitable foundation, with a pledge to give $100 million more.

There’s also an account of Bill Clinton’s and Giustra’s somehow not able to remember meeting with the head of Kazakhstan’s state-controlled uranium agency, Kazatomprom, at the Clintons’ home, in Chappaqua, N.Y., until confronted with evidence. Here’s a lowlight:

“You are correct that I asked the president to meet with the head of Kazatomprom,” Mr. Giustra said. “Mr. Dzhakishev [the head of the uranium agency] asked me in February 2007 to set up a meeting with former President Clinton to discuss the future of the nuclear energy industry.” Mr. Giustra said the meeting “escaped my memory until you raised it.”

That’s perfectly understandable, of course. I mean, any of us could forget about meeting with a former U.S. president and the guy who was about to make us many millions of dollars richer, right? Admit it: You probably can’t remember what you had for breakfast this morning.

The story raises the question of how happy Hillary Clinton is with this, as she has been an outspoken critic of Nazarbayev. But she certainly can’t distance herself from her husband’s shenanigans given that she’s ultimately responsible for unleashing him to attack Barack Obama during the past few weeks. It is the Clintons who’ve created the impression that they’re running for co-president, so his baggage is now hers as well. (Not that it ever wasn’t.)

But there’s an additional point of interest here, and that involves timing. This is, of course, a perfectly legitimate story, and the Times deserves a lot of credit for ferreting it out. Tonight we’ll see the most crucial debate of the campaign, as Clinton and Obama go at it one-on-one on CNN at 8 p.m. I suspect that this story will be a big part of the debate. And from there, it could dominate coverage right through Super Tuesday.

As we know, the Times has already endorsed Hillary Clinton. Today’s story may have far more of an effect on the outcome. Whether by accident or design, the news side has sent a clear message that it’s more relevant and more important than the paper’s opinionmongers.

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  1. Anonymous

    I’m starting to think the Republicans were right about the Clintons all along!

  2. Anonymous

    Aren’t there tax problems here? Shouldn’t Clinton be paying tax on the “income” he receives from his lobbying efforts?Also the charitable contribution can’t be deducted by the company if they receive an economic benefit from it.

  3. Anonymous

    It’s things like this that make me lean towards Obama. It’s not that I think Hillary would make a bad president, far from it. I think she would do an admirable job, and certainly an order of magnitude better than the clown currently holding the job. But if she does get the job, it would drive half the country apoplectic. And honestly, I’m not sure the country can survive four more years of what we’ve had in the last 16. From Gingrich’s Katrina-like response to the Red River floods in 95 so try to get Clinton to knuckle under on some budget issue, to Lott’s ridicule of Clinton’s claim that AIDS is a national security concern (until, that is, the pentagon said the same thing several years later), to the whole Lewinsky “scandal”, to the last eight of concerted efforts to disembowel the constitution.If Hillary wins, it’s more of that, if for no other reason than she’s a Clinton. Or Rodham. Whatever. Sad fact, but it’s a fact.Obama, to me, seems to be the only viable candidate that has even a remote chance to try to move beyond this crap.

  4. Anonymous

    Unfortunately, that’s the way almost all business is done and if the story had included other such deals, it would have been helpful. Besides, Van Natta Jr. has been trying to nail the Clintons for forever. Check it out

  5. The Scoop

    It sounds like what Bill did was not “VERY NICE!”

  6. Anonymous

    It does remove from my mouth the nasty taste left by the “coincidental” revocation of Tony Rezko’s bail the other day. This is the inescapable downside of machine politics. Even if Hillary were ethical (and she isn’t), the process enables hangers on to seek their fortunes unfettered by meaningful federal oversight.

  7. jamesgarnerisgod

    The worst thing about Hillary’s candidacy isn’t the candidate — who I’m sure would be a capable president. It’s the jerks who will inevitably be surrounding her, whether they be Balkan strongmen or detestable hacks like Terry McAuliffe.Though Clinton was a very effective president vis-a-vis the economy, from a personal ethics and international affairs standpoint, his tenure could be most charitably described as a faustian bargain. Hillary would probably be more of the same: Better than the Bush who preceded her, but is that the best America’s forced to strive for, now?

  8. Stella

    What’s the problem? Bill’s doing his best to repatriate some of the trillions of dollars that have flowed from the country, with a patriotic eye on the balance of payments no doubt.Admirable.

  9. Don, American


  10. Anonymous

    I know you want to go all civicsy on clinton’s ass but let’s examine the brutal reality. a tyrant has sway over both uranium riches and a backward nation. bill clinton has sway over a rich guy who wants to mine the uranium. bill manages to match his rich guy with the tyrant and bill’s guy gets the big contract. now bill owns this rich guy. so bill a) has a hand in what goes on in a nasty realm that features a tyrant and uranium, while b) Bill has his rich guy funnel $$ that would otherwise go into the pockets of some other rich scumbag into bill’s foundation, which is basically doing some of the best work in the world fighting AIDS and disease in the 3d world. (you can look this up.) I don’t know about you, but i’m damned impressed that bill has pulled this off.

  11. Anonymous

    For better or worse, this will no impact on the Clinton campaign. Their constituents already know the Clintons have no moral compass and will vote for them anyway. And for any attempt by the Obama campaign to make hay of this tempest in a uranium mine the Clintons will raise them a Tony Rezko. And unlike Obama, Hillary really know how to throw a haymaker. Game, set and match.

  12. Anonymous

    But please not 2 stories in Media Matters today; one that Mr. Giustra had talks with Khazak mining interests long before he met Clinton, the other noting that the Times missed the correct quote from Clinton during the speech in Khazakstan. According to Agence France Presse in a story written at the time of the speech, Clinton praised Nazarbayev’s “statement you have made about opening up the social and political life of your country,” i.e., not praising the horrible little man himself. Please remember, too, that the Times has a long history of hammering Bill Clinton–they took the lead in the Whitewater reporting debacle, for instance, making an ocean of corruption out of what in reality was a mere mudpuddle.

  13. Anonymous

    Good hearted people in the Flyover States won’t put up with “end justifies the means” politics. While most of us sophisticates are cynical, America is better than that. I still want to think that we won’t elect a pair of sociopaths as co-presidents.

  14. Anonymous

    anon 12:04 — we just did that twice in a row, thanx to the good flyover people. talk about cynical.

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