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Panel Questions Clinton On Foundation Donations

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. This is the time when we meet some of the people who will run the government. Or to put it more precisely, they will run the government...

MONTAGNE: If the Senate finds nothing too disturbing in their records. This morning we'll listen to three of President-elect Obama's choices. They all testified before Congress.

INSKEEP: And we begin with the highest-profile nominee of all. Hillary Clinton sat down before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She got a friendly reception, along with some questions. Some senators are concerned about foreign donations to her husband's foundation. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: Perhaps nowhere have the lines between the Senate and the incoming Obama administration crossed more than during Hillary Clinton's five-hour appearance before the Foreign Relations Committee. John Kerry is the panel's new chairman because the previous chair, Joe Biden, will soon be vice president. Another panel member who's left for higher office is Barack Obama. And Clinton herself got a club member's kind of welcome when Kerry gaveled in her lengthy job interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CONFIRMATION HEARING)

JOHN KERRY: I think every member of the Committee believes very strongly that in Senator Clinton we have a nominee who is extraordinarily capable and smart, an individual with the global stature and influence to help shape events.

WELNA: Also mixed in were frustrated presidential ambitions. Kerry's as the Democratic nominee four years ago, and Clintons as this year's Democratic primary runner-up. At one point in an exchange with Kerry, she slipped.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CONFIRMATION HEARING)

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, Mr. President - the president-elect, chairman...

KERRY: I'll take that.

CLINTON: Yes. It was a Freudian slip. The president-elect...

KERRY: We're both subject to those, I want you to know.

CLINTON: Yes, indeed, indeed. On this subject especially.

WELNA: Left unsaid was that Kerry himself very much wanted the job Mr. Obama in the end offered to Clinton. Choosing the former first lady to be secretary of state led to some sharp grilling yesterday about the foundation headed by former President Bill Clinton, who did not attend the hearing. For Dick Lugar, the panel's top Republican, that foundation is a problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CONFIRMATION HEARING)

DICK LUGAR: The core of the problem is that foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the secretary of state.

WELNA: Lugar said the chance is too great that State Department decisions could be seen as helping Bill Clinton's foreign donors.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CONFIRMATION HEARING)

LUGAR: The bottom line is that even well-intentioned foreign donations carry risks for United States foreign policy. The only certain way to eliminate this risk going forward, is for the Clinton Foundation to forswear new foreign contributions when you become secretary of state.

WELNA: Clinton insisted her husband's agreement to publicly disclose his donors once a year was enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CONFIRMATION HEARING)

CLINTON: I don't know who will be giving money. That will not influence - it will not be in the atmosphere. When the disclosure occurs, obviously it will be after the fact. So it would be hard to make an argument that it influenced anybody, because we didn't know about it.

WELNA: As for the foreign policy she'd pursue, Clinton described what she called a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. The emphasis, she said, would be on smart power.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CONFIRMATION HEARING)

CLINTON: With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of our foreign policy. This is not a radical idea. The ancient Roman poet Terrance declared that in every endeavor, a seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first. The same truth binds wise women as well.

WELNA: But Clinton also made clear that for certain players there will be pre-conditions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CONFIRMATION HEARING)

CLINTON: You can not negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements. That is just, for me, you know, an absolute.

WELNA: And Clinton called a nuclear-armed Iran simply unacceptable. Her performance clearly impressed Chairman Kerry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CONFIRMATION HEARING)

KERRY: I think you have acquitted yourself with great distinction today. I think people are impressed by the versatility and the breadth that you have shown, both in the preparation as well as in your own knowledge. We really do anticipate trying to move this as rapidly as we can.

WELNA: A committee vote on Clinton's nomination is expected to tomorrow. She could be confirmed by the full Senate as soon as next Tuesday. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.