FBI launches new investigation into Hillary Clinton's charitable foundation

Probe into whether organisation conducted 'pay-to-play' politics

Probe launched into whether the Clinton Foundation engaged in illegal activities during Hillary Clinton's time as Secretary of State
Probe launched into whether the Clinton Foundation engaged in illegal activities during Hillary Clinton's time as Secretary of State

An investigation has been launched by the US Justice Department into whether the Clinton Foundation conducted “pay-to-play” politics or illegal activities while Hillary Clinton served as secretary of State.

FBI agents from Little Rock, Arkansas, where the foundation has offices in former President Bill Clinton's presidential library, have taken the lead in the probe, The Hill reported.

At least one witness has been questioned in the past month and additional actions are expected in the coming weeks.

The Hill reported that officials, who spoke anonymously, said the investigation was looking at whether the Clintons promised or performed any policy favours in exchange for contributions to their charitable efforts.

It will also examine whether donors promised to make donations in return for government outcomes.

The probe may also examine whether any tax-exempt assets were converted for personal or political use and whether the foundation complied with tax laws, the newspaper cited the officials as saying.

A Justice Department spokesperson said the agency did not comment on ongoing investigations.

Nick Merrill, the chief spokesman for Ms Clinton, called the probe "disgraceful" and suggested that it might be a political distraction from President Donald Trump's various controversies, including the contentious special counsel investigation into potential ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia's meddling in that race.

"Let's call this what it is: A sham," Mr Merrill told The Hill. "This is a philanthropy that does life-changing work, which Republicans have tried to turn into a political football. It began with a now long-debunked project spearheaded by Steve Bannon during the presidential campaign. It continues with Jeff Sessions doing Trump's bidding by heeding his calls to meddle with a department that is supposed to function independently."

Clinton Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian similarly said the accusations were not based in fact, and that the foundation has a strong record of helping people around the world.

"Time after time, the Clinton Foundation has been subjected to politically motivated allegations, and time after time these allegations have been proven false. None of this has made us waver in our mission to help people," Mr Minassian said. "The Clinton Foundation has demonstrably improved the lives of millions of people across America, and around the world while earning top ratings from charity watchdog groups in the process."

The new investigation comes after weeks during which congressional Republicans have urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take appoint a special counsel to examine the controversies surrounding the Clintons. Mr Sessions has testified that appointing a special prosecutor requires a high legal bar, which the allegations against the Clintons have not met.

The investigation into Ms Clinton and her foundation was put on the back burner during the 2016 campaign, after FBI officials became concerned that public disclosure of the investigation would make it appear as though they were engaging in an effort to undermine her presidency. The FBI did, however, continue to conduct an investigation into Ms Clinton's use of a private email server while serving at the head of the State Department.

Ms Clinton's foundation has dogged her for years as she headed up the State Department, and, later, sought to become the first woman president in the history of the US. The foundation, which has over $350 million in assets and spends more than $90 million a year, has a large donor list, including foreign donors with connections to countries with spotted histories on human rights. One example of the perceived questionable connections: Some have noted that Ms Clinton's State Department authorised defence contracts between US companies and foreign governments Ms Clinton was critical of during her time at State -- including Saudi Arabia -- and that those defence contractors had donated, or eventually donated to, the Clinton Foundation.

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