IS Bill Clinton serving as a lobbyist and public-relations guru to the government of Dubai? It sure looks like it.
Note, too, that he's been paid a pretty penny by Dubai's rulers — including some profit (amount not disclosed) off business relationships that include Dubai's crown prince.
The whole affair raises disclosure questions for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, too. While publicly opposing the port deal, she privately benefits from her husband's Dubai-related income.
Published reports indicate that that Clinton has been directly advising top Dubai officials over the past two weeks on how to overcome negative public opinion and congressional resistance to the takeover of six U.S. ports by DP World — which is owned by a Dubai government holding company.
A Clinton spokesman says it was Bill himself who suggested to Dubai leaders that they propose a 45-day delay to allow for investigation of the port deal. (Columnist Robert Novak also reports that the ex-prez pushed them to hire his former press secretary to spin the port story, but Dubai declined.)
Should an ex-president be devising a strategy to help a foreign government deal with Congress on a sensitive political issue? It's certainly not a routine undertaking for a former commander-in-chief.
Clinton's spokesman brushed it off as just another example of world leaders regularly seeking out his advice. But — given the combination of Clinton's role in devising the Dubai strategy, his personal financial connections, and his frequent public statements in praise of Dubai — he probably should register as am agent of a foreign government.
Why should he register? Because Congress and the public deserve to know whether Clinton has a personal bias in favor of Dubai when he issues seemingly neutral public statements. Bill Clinton is undeniably influential; his listeners should have full information to assess his credibility here.
The public purpose behind the foreign-agent registration law, after all, is to make sure that we can distinguish between propaganda and information — especially, to know when statements are coming from someone who's acting in a public-relations capacity, paid or not.
For the past week, while traveling around the globe, Clinton has repeatedly gone out of his way to inject himself into the Dubai controversy. And in every instance, Clinton had high praises for the Arab nation that was home to two of the 9/11 hijackers and the place where $100,000 was wired to lead hijacker Mohammad Atta. "I have a very high opinion of the UAE and Dubai in particular," he parroted from India to Australia, citing the country as a "good ally."
He may well be right — but now his admiration and advocacy for Dubai may have been motivated by more than that of a selfless statesman trying to remain a voice of reason amidst the political fracas.
What are Clinton's major personal financial dealings with Dubai? Plenty's been written about his $300,000 fee for a 2002 speech; a more recent talk likely yielded the same amount. Dubai also contributed handsomely to the Clinton Presidential Library, and to the William Jefferson Clinton Scholars Program at the American University in Dubai.
Bill also works for a company that has formed a partnership with the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoun.
Back in 2002, the Yucaipa Co. LLC hired the former president as a "senior adviser." He won't say how much that pays; Hillary's disclosure forms only put it at "more than $1,000" a year. A company lawyer recently disclosed that he gets a percentage of profits, if they're above 9 percent — and also says the firm's been averaging about a 40 percent.
And Yucaipa last year with the Dubai Investment Group to create a new U.S. company: DIGL Inc, with, which invests the private funds of the Crown Prince. So Bill and Yucaipa have a big stake in keeping a positive image for the Dubai royals and their many companies.
The public deserves full disclosure on how his Dubai relationships effect his public statements — and how, if at all, his Dubai income influences the positions of a U.S. senator.
Eileen McGann co-authored this column.