WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If Sen. Hillary Clinton is to be picked by President-elect Barack Obama as his secretary of state, it may well depend on a review of the business activities of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Obama met former rival New York Sen. Clinton last Thursday to discuss the secretary of state job as he seeks high-powered individuals to join his administration, which takes power on January 20.
In another move, Eric Holder, who was a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, has accepted Obama’s conditional offer to be U.S. attorney general, a senior Democrat said.
Holder, 57, would be the first African-American to head the Justice Department.
Obama’s transition team is believed to be looking at Bill Clinton’s post-White House work to review whether his international philanthropic and business dealings would pose a conflict of interest if his wife were secretary of state.
He has built a fortune since leaving the White House in early 2001 and is believed to be worth about $100 million, much of it from writing books and giving speeches.
He has played the role of roving ambassador, and his William Jefferson Clinton Foundation has raised millions of dollars from around the world to combat AIDS, malaria and global warming.
Some political experts believe he should be required to disclose the list of donors who helped pay for his presidential library in Arkansas and fund his foundation.
“There should be an ironclad agreement on disclosure,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. “Because one thing we’ve learned about Bill Clinton is if he can possibly wheedle his way out of disclosure, he’ll do it.”
The Obama team may well insist that Clinton cut back some of his activities in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest should his wife gain the chief U.S. diplomatic post. Many Democrats believe he would be willing to do that.
“I think the only issue going forward prospectively is whether the former president is willing to do less than he is currently doing,” said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf, a Clinton backer. “Obviously he has a lot of business around the world and it seems to me he is willing to do less.”
Presidential scholar Stephen Hess, who examines what new presidents need to know in his new book, “What Do We Do Now? — A Workbook for the President-Elect,” said it may take more time to vet the Clintons but believes a way will be found to get Hillary Clinton in the job.
“In fact it’s doable in part because we already really know so much about where the Clintons are coming from,” he said.
Clinton backers believe both Clintons have been scrutinized so many times over the years that there is nothing left to examine. They believe he has met standards of disclosure more stringent than other ex-presidents.
“These are the most vetted people in American history,” said one Democratic official with ties to the Clintons. “We know as much about them as anybody.”
The Obama team requires those seeking high-ranking jobs to undergo an extensive background check that includes filling out a seven-page, 63-question document.
It covers everything from personal financial information to whether the prospective employee has written e-mails that could prove embarrassing to the Obama administration.
Whether the Clintons would be required to fill out the questionnaire was not clear. The Obama transition team would not comment on personnel matters.
The objective of the questionnaire is to have an administration that is as squeaky clean as possible and head off embarrassing problems that have dogged previous administrations — such as Bill Clinton’s, when his choice for attorney general was disqualified for having employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny.
But some think the Obama document is overkill. One Democratic official said the document sought such extensive information that “why would any rational person want to go forward? The disclosure requirements are so onerous, why bother?”
Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Bill Trott