Chelsea Clinton shows her frustrations — and devotion — in hacked e-mails
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Chelsea Clinton was alarmed.
During a 2011 trip to London representing her family's foundation, she got wind that people close to her father, Bill Clinton, had been lobbying members of Parliament for their own consulting clients, telling the officials they were calling "on behalf of President Clinton."
People she ran into whispered that the practice reminded them of former Prime Minister Tony Blair's sneered-upon post-Downing Street moneymaking ventures, a comparison that she said "would horrify my father," who had no idea his name was being used.
It was an eye-opening moment for Chelsea Clinton, the only child of America's most famous political power couple, who was making a new name for herself as a defender of her father's legacy and, by extension, of her mother's coming second presidential campaign.
Her comments about her father's aides were revealed in the thousands of e-mails obtained by hackers and released by WikiLeaks over the past month. In addition to showing the internal strategizing, sniping and off-the-cuff commentary within Hillary Clinton's inner circle, the e-mails paint an unexpectedly detailed portrait of her guarded and private daughter as she set about her goal, as she explained in one email, of "protecting my father and the nonprofit status of the foundation."
As Chelsea Clinton asserted herself at the Clinton Foundation, eager to embrace her role as a board member and de facto heir, she became concerned about what seemed to her to be a lack of professionalism, as well as a blurring of the lines between the foundation's philanthropic activities and some of its leaders' business interests.
"My only objectives were to take stock, professionalize the foundation, build it for the future and build it in such a way that supported his work and my mom's," Chelsea Clinton wrote in an e-mail to her parents' closest advisers in November 2011, around the time she enlisted outside lawyers to examine the foundation's practices.
Though her housecleaning role had Hillary Clinton's tacit approval ("My mother strongly agreed," Chelsea Clinton said in one e-mail laying out proposed changes at the foundation), it proved not to be so simple. Her efforts set off a cascade of grievances, gossip and infighting as her ascendance diminished the longtime aides whom Bill Clinton often referred to as surrogate children.
Chelsea Clinton had already started to fret about the intermingling of foundation business with Teneo, the corporate consulting firm co-founded by Douglas J. Band, one of her father's closest aides. She suggested an audit of the charity and wrote that she was concerned that Teneo's principals had been "hustling" business at foundation gatherings. Chelsea Clinton, 31 at the time, had held various jobs, including positions at McKinsey & Co. and Avenue Capital, a hedge fund owned by a major Clinton donor. She had degrees from Stanford, Oxford and Columbia but had not quite found a way to harness all her academic wherewithal.
To Band, who had remained loyal to Bill Clinton when others abandoned him post-impeachment, and who was instrumental in building the Clinton Foundation from scratch, Chelsea Clinton seemed like a dilettante.
In response to the scrutiny, Band wrote a 13-page memo outlining how he had raised many millions of dollars for the foundation from Teneo's corporate clients, including Coca-Cola and Dow Chemical, without taking a fee. In the memo, which WikiLeaks released this week, Band also described arranging tens of millions of dollars in income for Bill Clinton in the form of lucrative speeches and consulting arrangements, some of them from foundation donors.
"We have solicited and obtained, as appropriate, in-kind services for the president and his family — for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like," Band wrote.
The subtext was clear: Where Chelsea Clinton saw a messy overlapping of business and charity that could haunt both of her parents, Band saw an ungrateful daughter who was naive about how what he called "Bill Clinton Inc." made its money, and how her own expensive lifestyle was funded.
"I just don't think any of this is right and that we should be treated this way when no one else is, only because CVC has nothing better to do and need justify her existence," he wrote in one e-mail, using the initials for Chelsea Victoria Clinton.
Band, who had already planned to leave the foundation to focus on Teneo, often expressed frustration at the global charity's nepotism, pointing to Chelsea Clinton's installing her friends in central roles.
Bill Clinton, who does not use e-mail, is almost absent in the battles happening beneath him, mentioned only in passing as "Dad" or by his initials, "WJC."
In another e-mail, Chelsea Clinton alludes to her father's feelings about the tensions at his foundation. "Doug apparently kept telling my dad I was trying to push him out, take over — and Dad kept asking him — has she said that to you? To anyone? She's never said it to me," she wrote. Band has said the exchange Chelsea Clinton describes never happened.
If the e-mails show Chelsea Clinton getting a crash course on the cutthroat world on the periphery of the Clinton family, they also show a young woman deeply devoted to her parents and very much her mother's daughter. Chelsea Clinton often gravitated to weighty policy discussions and interspersed statistics and SAT words into casual conversations.
Hours after the 2012 attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya, she mused about the unrest in Egypt and Libya in a late-night e-mail to her mother. "Such anathema to us as Americans — and a painful reminder of how long it took modernism to take root in the U.S., after the Enlightenment, the 14th, 15th, 16th, 19th amendments," she wrote. "Much to discuss when we talk, hopefully tomorrow?"
In another e-mail addressed to "Dad, Mom," Chelsea Clinton seemed apologetic, writing, "I hope this mini-behemoth is not rife with grammatical errors or inadvertent gaps; I am sorry if either true."
Coming from a unwitting celebrity whose adolescence unfolded, often unkindly, in the public eye, Chelsea Clinton's e-mails — which she usually sent under one of two aliases, Diane Reynolds or Anna James — also reflect her life in a rarefied world.
"So nice from the Bon Jovis," she wrote to her mother in 2013, forwarding well-wishes from the rock star and his wife after Hillary Clinton had been hospitalized.
Last year, a close aide to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, wrote in a message to John D. Podesta, the Clinton adviser whose e-mail account was later hacked, that the Clintons' house in Chappaqua, New York, had to be cleaned after an employee had a stomach virus so that Hillary Clinton could baby-sit for Chelsea's daughter, Charlotte.
"Sanitizing the house all day so the baby can be there," Abedin wrote. "WJC was out buying clorox wipes yesterday!"
Even when e-mailing with her parents, Chelsea Clinton was not shy about delivering blistering criticism, as when she wrote to them after a trip to Haiti, which the foundation was trying to help rebuild after the devastating 2010 earthquake. "To say I was profoundly disturbed by what I saw — and didn't see — would be an understatement," Clinton wrote to her mother. "The incompetence is mind numbing."
And in rare instances, her e-mails contained an emotion that she never publicly shows: despair.
"I am sure there are three sides as my grandmother would say — his, hers and the truth," Clinton wrote to Podesta amid the foundation disputes. "All of it makes me very sad."