Hillary Clinton is leading in the polls, but the public still doesn't entirely trust her.
This week, those suspicions focused on the candidate's relationship to the organization her husband founded, which she joined following her tenure as secretary of state. Appointees to high office must avoid not just actual conflicts of interest but the appearance of conflict, and the since-renamed Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation's aggressive pursuit of donations from individuals and governments that might want special access to the State Department made it difficult, if not impossible, to avoid such conflicts.
Thanks to Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, we now have evidence that the Clintons may have crossed the line.
In a batch of emails newly released this week as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request, we see concrete proof that foundation staff sought access to top-level State Department officials on behalf of donors. In some cases, doors appeared to open for donors; in others, it is less clear.
But in several cases, the foundation sought help from two of Hillary Clinton's top, longtime aides: Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills. No quid pro quo is necessary to determine that such contact was highly inappropriate.
In a normal election cycle this story would be dominating the news — but Donald Trump's comments that maybe "Second Amendment people" could do something to stop a President Clinton from appointing unfriendly judges managed to take the focus off Clinton and put it on Trump once again.
Nonetheless, this story has legs, and Clinton must come to terms with the problems the Clinton Foundation poses to a Clinton presidency.
Neither Bill Clinton, president of the foundation, nor daughter Chelsea, who is vice chair, have announced what their relationship to the eponymous foundation will be should Hillary become president. Resigning their posts would seem a prerequisite to avoid actual conflicts, but I believe they would be wise to go much further.
Even the name of the foundation presents problems. Donors would perceive gifts to a foundation named for a former and current president and their daughter as their way of showing "appreciation," not simply fostering good deeds. Whether or not the Clintons and their aides provided access to such individuals, the donation would always raise suspicions.
The first step, then, in avoiding such conflicts would be to drop the Clinton name. Why not rename the group simply the Global Initiative, which the foundation uses in the titles of many of its projects?
But even that would not be enough, so long as the charity was headed by Clinton allies and staffed with Clinton stalwarts. The best way to avoid the problem would be for the Clintons to hand over the leadership to a prominent Republican, a former governor, senator or president. George H.W. Bush is probably too old to assume the duties, but what about George W. Bush? No, I'm not kidding. President Bush was very active in the fight against AIDS and malaria in Africa, among other humanitarian efforts. Certainly no one could accuse donors to a foundation headed by such a prominent Republican as trying to curry favor with a Democratic president.
If naming a Bush to head up the group is a bridge too far, the Clintons could appoint co-chairs or co-presidents, one Democrat and one Republican, and make sure the executive director had no previous ties to the expansive Clinton network.
The Clintons have always relied on "friends" to get them what they wanted, whether it was getting deals on investment properties on the White River; making miraculously profitable trades on the commodity markets; or securing huge donations to charities that would burnish the Clinton legacy.
And they've managed to enrich themselves along the way, earning fabulous speaking fees: Bill has a talent for public speaking that could possibly justify those fees, but no one could say the same for Hillary. And it was those fees that helped turn the couple from being "flat broke" when they left the White House (as Hillary claimed in an interview) to being worth more than a hundred million today.
No president in recent history has cashed in on the presidency to the degree Bill Clinton has, and part of the reason is that Hillary moved into a position of power just as Bill was relinquishing his, first as a U.S. senator then as secretary of state.
If the Clintons don't give up their ties to the Clinton Foundation entirely should Hillary become president, you can bet they will be hounded by skeptical Republicans in Congress, who will haul the foundation into hearings and maybe even try to bring in the president herself. The last thing she needs if she assumes office is to keep feeding the suspicion that she's not entirely trustworthy.
So, why not get out front now?
Who knows, she might even boost her favorability ratings by a few points.
Linda Chavez is chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a nonprofit public policy research organization in Falls Church, Va.; a syndicated columnist; and a political analyst. Her latest book is "Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics." For more of her reports, Go Here Now.