Bill Clinton, his former aide and the power of 'the ask'

Inside Bill Clinton, Inc.
Inside Bill Clinton, Inc.

Doug Band was never shy about making the ask.

Band was a longtime aide to former President Bill Clinton, instrumental in the early days of setting up Clinton's post-presidency and establishing the operating patterns of the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and later, a for-profit company of his own called Teneo.

Band had begun his career as Bill Clinton's "body man" — the young staffer who carried bags, took notes and navigated Clinton through the day. But over the years, he became the man Bill Clinton relied on to make "the ask" — requests for money for the Clinton Foundation, Clinton's charitable initiatives and most sensitively, for Bill Clinton himself.

In Washington, making the ask is a delicate thing — politicians and power brokers need to make asks all the time: politicians ask donors for money, lobbyists ask politicians for legislative favors, and on and on. It has to be done carefully, without crossing ethical lines or coming across as unseemly. But it has to be done. And that's why a figure like Band can be so important — it allows the principal to ride above crass commerce, engaged in more high-minded discussions of ideas and policies. Someone else is nearby to make the ask.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton
Stephanie Keith | Getty Images

By 2011, the relationships at the core of that system inside the Clinton universe were fraying, and Band was forced to explain himself in a 12-page memo to the lawyers, the Clinton family and members of the Clinton Foundation board. Top Clinton executives had brought in an outside law firm to audit the Clinton Foundation as part of an effort to streamline and professionalize Clinton's various enterprises, and Band's memo would be a lynchpin of that effort.

Titled "Background on Teneo and Foundation Activities," the 12-page memo was never intended to go public — the phrase "Attorney Client Privilege" was emblazoned on the top of the document. But Band emailed the document to Clinton special advisor John Podesta for his input. And when Podesta's emails were hacked and posted for the world to see on WikiLeaks, Band's confidential assessment of the inner workings of Clinton's finances went massively public.

"Given concerns that have been expressed about the role of Teneo in the Foundation's and the President's activities, as well as regarding support I provide for President's for-profit business activities, I wanted to take this opportunity to share information and help clarify my activities on behalf of the President," Band wrote. "This memorandum strives to set forth how I have endeavored to support the Clinton Foundation and President Clinton personally."

Band laid out his entire history — as he saw it — with the Clinton family, beginning with a seven-year effort to raise money for the Clinton library and endowment. Ultimately, Band said, he put together a strategy that raised well over $150 million, "much of it from people who did not know President Clinton when he was in office."

What was that strategy? In a footnote, Band says it boiled down to him making the ask. "This strategy included engaging the President's time to undertake specific speeches, events, targeted donor meetings, and other activities, after which Justin [Cooper] and I would follow-up to seek support for the Foundation."

Eventually, Band decided to make the ask for himself, too.

In 2011, he established Teneo, a private firm with three partners: Band, Declan Kelly and Paul Keary. From the beginning, the private money-making activities of Teneo were closely intertwined with the charitable efforts of the Clinton Foundation, and the private money-making efforts of Bill Clinton himself. "Teneo partners have raised in excess of $8 million for the Foundation, more than $5.25 million of which is in the bank. Teneo partners also have generated over $3 million in paid speeches for President Clinton," Band wrote. Teneo kicked in large sums for the Foundation. According to Band, that included: $4.3 million from Coca-Cola, $780,000 from the Dow Chemical Company, $540,000 from the Swiss bank UBS and more.

Figuring out where Teneo ended and the Clinton Foundation began could be complicated. When Bill Clinton famously went to North Korea to negotiate the freedom of prisoners there, Dow Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris provided Dow's plane for Clinton and his staff. The Foundation paid for airfare, but the loaner plane saved the Foundation $100,000 in travel costs, Band wrote.

In a statement, a Dow spokesperson said, "Dow's participation and engagement with CGI dates back to 2007 and is well aligned to core business and citizenship strategies that have positively leveraged the resources and capabilities of our company."

Dow also became a sponsor of the Clinton Global Initiative, a significant fundraising effort, and gave $150,000 to the Clinton Foundation "for President Clinton to attend a Dow dinner in Davos." What's more, Dow was a private client of Band's firm Teneo.

At the center of it all was Band, ready to make the ask for more money. He called it: Bill Clinton, Inc.

But Chelsea Clinton didn't appreciate all of that. She complained to others about Band's company Teneo "hustling" business for themselves at Clinton events. And when Band fought back, Clinton, using an email alias, struck back: "Doug called and yelled and screamed at my dad," Chelsea Clinton wrote in an email to Clinton aides. "I cannot believe Doug did this on the day my grandmother died."

For his part, Band sent snarky emails behind Chelsea's back, and one point writing to another aide, "This is the 3rd time this week where she has gone to daddy to chance a decision or interject herself in the process."

It set up an Oedipal struggle for control of the Clinton money machine as Bill Clinton was forced to mediate between his daughter and an aide so close some described him as like a son to the former president.

Band lost out, resigning from the Clinton Foundation in 2015.

This week, the Clinton campaign declined to authenticate any of the stolen emails posted by WikiLeaks, saying they were being used by the Russian government to "weaponize" WikiLeaks. But Teneo issued a statement defending Band's memo.

Toward the end of the battle over his role in Clinton land, Band wrote a wounded email to John Podesta, complaining that he had to sign a conflict of interest policy, but Bill Clinton personally did not have to sign one. "Oddly, [Bill Clinton] does not have to sign such a document even though he is personally paid by 3 [Clinton Global Initiative] sponsors, gets many expensive gifts from them, some that are at home."

Band had committed a classic mistake.

He forgot that in Washington, the person who makes the ask is not always the same as the person who gets to keep whatever is being asked for.

In the end, Band confused the ask with the get.