Former President Bill Clinton defended the family charity Monday and pushed back against questions dogging the presidential campaign of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying there was nothing “sinister” in the foundation pocketing millions of dollars in foreign donations.
Mr. Clinton insisted that the Clinton Foundation was in the business of saving lives and helping people in impoverished countries, not trading political favors for cash, as has been alleged in a recent book.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we have never done anything knowingly inappropriate in terms of taking money to influence any kind of American government policy. That just hasn’t happened,” Mr. Clinton said in an interview aired on NBC’s “Today.”
“The lives we save and the impact we’ve had — I’m proud of it,” said Mr. Clinton, who did the interview while in Africa to tour nine of the charity’s projects.
He said he might step down from the foundation if Mrs. Clinton is elected president but won’t stop giving paid speeches.
“I gotta pay our bills,” he said. “And I also give a lot of it to the foundation every year.”
He characterized the furor over foreign donations as an attack on the Clinton Foundation rather than an attack on Mrs. Clinton, the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
“There’s been a very deliberate attempt to take the foundation down,” he said. “And there’s almost no new fact that’s known now that wasn’t known when she ran for president the first time.”
However, Mr. Clinton’s foray into the controversy only highlighted the anxiety within Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and a desperation to put the story behind her. He previously has stayed on the sidelines.
Still, questions persisted about generous donations and huge speaking fees paid to Mr. Clinton by foreign entities while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state, creating potential conflicts of interest.
Later, a State Department spokesman also struggled to allay the same questions. But he could not explain why officials were unconcerned about the Clinton Foundation failing to disclose foreign donations in accordance with an agreement between Mrs. Clinton and the Obama administration when she took the job of top diplomat.
“I think the foundation is making efforts now to provide that information that wasn’t provided,” said State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke. “We’re not aware of any evidence of undue influence … stemming from those.”
The Clinton Foundation last week acknowledged that it had failed to disclose some foreign donations and had misreported donations in tax filings, which the foundation pledged to correct with new disclosures and amended tax returns.
The intrigue is compounded by Mrs. Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email account for official business at the State Department and her decision to unilaterally destroy roughly half the messages from her four years in office. The unusual arrangement, which may have violated federal open records laws, likely will keep questions percolating about the possible destruction of communications involving the Clinton Foundation.
The donations and speaking fees emerged as a problem for the Clinton campaign with the publication of the book “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.”
The book, by journalist and conservative political adviser Peter Schweizer, argued that the Clintons got rich off foreign cash in return for favors while Mrs. Clinton was running the State Department.
The controversy deepened with newspaper reports about deals, including a $2.35 million donation and a $500,000 speaking fee for Mr. Clinton from businesses tied to a Russian uranium deal that required State Department approval, according to The New York Times.
The deal went through and allowed Russia’s atomic energy agency, Rosatom, to nearly corner the world uranium market and control mines stretching from Asia to the Western U.S., including about 20 percent of America’s uranium supply.
Mrs. Clinton’s allies beat back that story by noting that the State Department was one of nine agencies that had to sign off on the deal. But the size of Mr. Clinton’s fee — which was about five times his typical fee — continues to raise eyebrows.
“We do our best to vet them,” Mr. Clinton said of who pays for his talks. “And I have turned down a lot of them. If I think there’s something wrong with it, I don’t take it.”
Mr. Clinton also said his family gets held to a higher standard.
“People should draw their own conclusions. I’m not in politics,” he said. “All I’m saying is the idea that there’s one set of rules for us and another set for everybody else is true.”
Other dealings include a free trade agreement in Colombia that benefited a major foundation donor’s investments in the South American nation and more than $1 million in payments to Mr. Clinton by a Canadian bank and major shareholder in the Keystone XL oil pipeline that occurred while the project was under State Department review, according to reports.
The Clinton campaign at first attempted to dismiss the book as a right-wing hit job. But as the scrutiny persisted, the campaign began to pick apart some of the allegations.
The campaign challenged allegations that the State Department quickly sent taxpayer dollars through a disaster-relief program for Haiti to Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, who the book said had arranged high-price speeches for Mr. Clinton at about the same time.
A Clinton spokesman said Mr. Clinton was never paid for the speech, according to BuzzFeed.
The focus on the money swirling around the Clintons has impacted Mrs. Clinton’s run.
An Associated Press-GfK poll released last week found that more than six in 10 independents agreed that “honest” was not the best word to describe the second-time presidential candidate.
Mrs. Clinton’s GOP rivals also have seized on the scandal.
“Bill Clinton is saying what Hillary Clinton has said on many occasions: Just trust us, just trust us. And, unfortunately, trust is earned through transparency, and I think they have not been particularly transparent on a whole host of things,” said former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who announced her run as a Republican for president Monday.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.