DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Hillary Clinton has been on the defensive this week over the Clinton Foundation and the question of whether donors to that charity were given anything inappropriate in return. Donald Trump accuses Clinton of straight-up corruption. Here he is in Tampa, Fla., yesterday.
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DONALD TRUMP: She sold favors and access in exchange for cash. She sold it.
GREENE: NPR's Scott Detrow has been sorting through the facts around the Clinton Foundation. He's here to talk about this. Morning, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning, David.
GREENE: So Hillary Clinton's campaign often points to the good the foundation does - providing malaria drugs, providing AIDS medication to save lives around the world. But all of that takes money. And I guess the big question that's the real focus here is whether something improper happens as the foundation cultivates these big donors.
DETROW: Yeah. They've raised about $2 billion since 2001. And a lot of that money has come from very powerful people around the world - also some foreign governments.
So the accusation is that it's pay-to-play - that in return for their contributions, these people were expecting access to Hillary Clinton, who was a senator, secretary of state and, all along, a possible future president - that they wanted to curry favor there. This has been a critique for a long time.
It's intensified in recent weeks because of some new emails we've seen. There are conversations between foundation staffers and State Department officials asking for meetings and other favors for people who had donated a lot of money.
GREENE: And also intensified because of this story that suggested a figure that people are talking about that - that more than half of this big group of meetings she had while she was secretary of state were with donors to the foundation. Sort this out for me.
DETROW: Yeah. This is from the Associated Press. They did a story reporting that more than half of the private citizens she met with were foundation donors. And that got a lot of pushback, mostly because of that private figure.
The AP decided not to count any of her meetings with government officials in the U.S., with government officials from other countries, which is, of course, the vast majority of what a Secretary of State does.
The Clinton campaign says they're looking - about 150 meetings - and ignored more than 1,700 meetings. But the thing is she did meet with a lot of people who had given a lot of money to the Clinton Foundation, including 20 people who had given more than $1 million.
GREENE: So we heard that quick clip from Donald Trump at the beginning sort of broadly. But he's made some very specific allegations suggesting pay-to-play. What are those, and what do they tell us?
DETROW: One example that's come up a lot is kind of illustrative - is UBS, the big Swiss bank. There was a big standoff between that bank and the IRS. When Hillary Clinton took office, the IRS wanted the bank to turn over details about Americans with secret bank accounts.
UBS didn't want to do that. Hillary Clinton brokered a deal as secretary of state with the Swiss government and the bank. They ended up turning over some of that information but not all of it. But then after that, the bank gave about a half million dollars more to the Clinton Foundation.
They also paid Bill Clinton one and a half million dollars for a series of speeches. That's one of several examples where the timing is suspicious.
DETROW: But you could also view it as a legitimate State Department issue. This was a high-profile international issue at the time. Hillary Clinton went on CNN last night and dismissed this idea.
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HILLARY CLINTON: I know there's a lot of smoke. And there's no fire.
GREENE: Well - so a lot of smoke - no fire. I mean, is there evidence of a link? You say there's timing here. But is there some evidence of what Republicans are calling pay-to-play?
DETROW: Well, the timing is the biggest one. The other aspect here is that we're seeing fragments. We're seeing email requests. But we don't see the full thread and why a decision was made. You know, Peter Schweizer - he wrote the book about this, "Clinton Cash."
He has very close ties to Trump's new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon. And he has admitted there's no proof of the quid pro quo. There's just very suspicious timing on some of these.
You know, what is clear is that there's a lot of access - time with the secretary of state, getting your concerns in front of top staffers, face time. We spoke to an expert about these questions. His name's Larry Noble. He's with the nonprofit group the Campaign Legal Center.
LARRY NOBLE: Anybody who's been in politics for a long time and has played the money game is used to the idea that you've got to offer your donors something. And when they do make big contributions, they will expect something in return.
And it may be just the meeting. And nothing may be decided at the meeting. But they - and they may feel that that's part of the system. The Supreme Court thinks that's part of the system. But the public doesn't necessarily think that should be part of a democracy.
DETROW: And that taps into a key frustration that Donald Trump and others have expressed - that government is there for the rich and not everybody.
GREENE: OK. NPR's Scott Detrow, talking about the Clinton Foundation. Scott, thanks.
DETROW: Thank you.
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