In mid-January 2018, a more-than-a-year-old rumor that the Clinton Foundation illegally paid for Chelsea Clinton's 2010 wedding began recirculating on social media, after the only daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to criticize United Sates President Donald Trump for disparaging African countries, El Salvador, and Haiti in an ongoing debate about immigration.
The rumor first appeared two days before the 8 November 2016 presidential election, when the document-dumping site WikiLeaks posted a hacked email between Democratic operatives seemingly discussing it. The rumor was kicked up again by supporters of President Trump after two damaging breaking news stories hit: one by the Washington Post reporting that Trump had asked during a discussion about immigration why people from "shithole countries" were coming to the U.S., and another by the Wall Street Journal reporting that one of Trump's attorneys had paid a six-figure sum to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to remain silent about a 2006 sexual encounter.;
The unfounded Chelsea Clinton wedding rumor was pushed by the usual suspects:
Chelsea loves the Haitian people. They paid for her wedding, after all. https://t.co/rYmmXiswGE
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) January 12, 2018
The story got a major boost by Fox News guest Tom Fitton, the head of right-wing activist organization Judicial Watch, who claimed in an interview on the conservative cable channel that Haiti got "shafted" by the Clinton Foundation because Chelsea's wedding and a major earthquake in Haiti took place in the same year, insinuating that funds intended for earthquake relief in Haiti were diverted to the Clintons' daughter's wedding instead:
.@TomFitton: "@ChelseaClinton's wedding was back in 2010, which was the year of the [Haiti] earthquake, and the allegation was that Foundation resources were used for Clinton's wedding." pic.twitter.com/jK5kcr9zR5
— Fox News (@FoxNews) January 13, 2018
The claim that the Clinton Foundation diverted funds from the Haiti quake to Chelsea Clinton's wedding is a reach at best, especially considering the discussion in the e-mail exchange between former Bill Clinton aides Doug Band and John Podesta on 4 January 2012 was itself nothing more than the relaying of a rumor. In it, Band told Podesta that he had caught wind of scuttlebutt regarding Chelsea Clinton's activities and the Clinton Foundation finances from a friend of a friend, as it were:
I just received a call from a close friend of [Bill Clinton] who said that [Chelsea Clinton] told one of the bush 43 kids that she is conducting an internal investigation of money within the foundation from [Clinton Global Initiative] to the foundation. The bush kid then told someone else who then told an operative within the republican party
I have heard more and more chatter of [Chelsea Clinton] and [Bari Lurie] talking about lots of what is going on internally to people
The investigation into her getting paid for campaigning, using foundation resources for her wedding and life for a decade, taxes on money from her parents....
I hope that you will speak to her and end this
Once we go down this road....
The e-mail was made public as part of a trove of leaked messages which U.S. intelligence agencies reported were stolen by Russian hackers from the Democratic operatives in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election and were then handed over to WikiLeaks as part of an effort not only to not only help then-candidate Donald Trump, but also to sow social division and doubt in the American democratic process. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia.
No tangible evidence has yet turned up documenting that the cost of Chelsea Clinton's 2010 wedding to investment banker Marc Mezvinsky was paid out of Clinton Foundation coffers, and it's unclear exactly what Band meant by Chelsea Clinton's using foundation "resources" for her wedding, or why she might have been investigating who paid for her own wedding. What is clear is that Band was talking about hearsay, and the e-mail offered only nebulous information about what was being investigated (and by whom). Adding more uncertainty to the motivations and context for the exchange was the fact that Band apparently had a sour relationship with Chelsea over his role at the Clinton Foundation.
According to Bill Clinton's spokesperson, Angel Ureña, Chelsea's wedding in Rhinebeck, New York was paid for by her parents, which Clinton himself reiterated on Twitter:
No Clinton Foundation funds—dedicated to Haiti or otherwise—were used to pay for Chelsea’s wedding. It’s not only untrue, it’s a personal insult to me, to Hillary, and to Chelsea and Marc. https://t.co/YEHqqYrsxW
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) January 13, 2018
The Clinton Foundation's finances are independently audited annually, and reports are posted to the charity's web site for public examination. Certified public accounting firm BKD audited the Clinton Foundation's finances for the year 2010 and found no evidence of any misleading or inaccurate financial statements made on Internal Revenue Service disclosure forms.
The charities of both 2016 major party presidential candidates were the sources of much scrutiny and partisan flame-throwing in the months before the election, but the Clinton Foundation has been the target of an unending parade of debunked-yet-resilient conspiracy theories. Here are just a few of the many examples:
o The suicide death of former Haitian official Klaus Eberwein was linked to the foundation.
o A former foundation executive, Eric Braverman, had suspiciously gone "missing."
o After giving a speech supporting Hillary Clinton's candidacy at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, Gold Star father Khizr Kahn was accused of accepting a six-figure wire transfer from the Clinton Foundation.
Perhaps the most persistent conspiracy theory about the Clinton Foundation is the one with the longest legs to date: a debunked but jarring claim that Hillary Clinton made a deal to transfer 20 percent of U.S. uranium deposits to a Russian company in exchange for donations to the foundation has made it to the highest levels of government. In November 2017, the Justice Department announced it would review the Uranium One allegations.
In July 2016, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) filed fraud complaints with several federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, against the Clinton Foundation. The IRS followed up by notifying Blackburn that her complaint was being referred to the Exempt Organizations Examinations office in Dallas, Texas. Meanwhile, Washington Post investigative reporter David Fahrenthold documented in detail several instances in which the Donald J. Trump Foundation violated federal rules against "self-dealing," which forbid non-profit heads from using charity money for personal benefit.