CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Former President Bill Clinton defended his foundation's acceptance of donations from foreign governments on Saturday, pointing to the track record of his global philanthropy as Hillary Rodham Clinton nears an announcement on a 2016 presidential campaign.
In an interview at the Clinton Global Initiative University, the ex-president sought to address critics who have questioned the receipt of donations from foreign governments while the former first lady served in the State Department and after she departed in early 2013.
"My theory about all of this is disclose everything and then let people make their judgments," Clinton told moderator Larry Wilmore of the cable channel Comedy Central. "I believe we have done a lot more good than harm and I believe this is a good thing."
He spoke shortly after Hillary Clinton appeared on stage along with the couple's daughter, Chelsea Clinton, but steered clear of addressing criticism involving her use of a private email account while she served as secretary of state under President Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton also did not talk about the recent scrutiny of the foundation's fundraising practices, instead giving college students a preview of an upcoming report on the progress of women and girls by her foundation's "No Ceilings" project.
On the donations flap, Bill Clinton noted that some of the foundation's money has come from Middle Eastern nations, pointing to donations from the United Arab Emirates. "Do we agree with everything they do? No. But they're helping us fight ISIS," he said. Similarly, Bill Clinton said he didn't agree with the entire foreign policy of Saudi Arabia, another donor, but he pointed to its construction of the kingdom's first coeducational institution.
He said the foundation has received donations from more than 300,000 people since its inception. "You've got to decide when you do this work whether it will do more good than harm if someone helps you from another country," he said.
In recent days, Hillary Clinton has faced criticism over her use of a private email account while she was secretary of state. The disclosures have raised questions over whether Clinton complied with federal rules requiring government officials to retain written communications involving official business.
Clinton has requested her emails to be released and the State Department is reviewing the 55,000 pages of emails she has already turned over. Congressional Republicans are investigating.
Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short said Hillary Clinton had spent the past week "hiding from the press and voters" and that it was "clear that Hillary Clinton feels the rules that every other American lives by don't apply to her, and today's failure to answer these questions did nothing to allay any of these concerns."
Obama commented publicly on the email controversy for the first time Saturday, telling CBS News that he first heard about the private account through news reports and that he was glad that Hillary Clinton had "instructed that those emails about official business need to be disclosed." Asked how the dustup squared with his administration's push for transparency, Obama said Clinton's decision to put them forward "will allow us to make sure that people have the information they need."
Republicans have also assailed the Clinton Foundation's receipt of donations from foreign governments, saying it could create a conflict of interest for the former first lady if she's elected president.
Hillary Clinton is building a campaign team and remains the leading Democratic presidential contender if she enters the 2016 campaign. Her appearance at the University of Miami brought her before an audience of college students in one of the nation's top presidential battleground states and was only a short drive from the home of a potential Republican rival, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Pointing to her upcoming "No Ceiling" report, Hillary Clinton said "unfinished business" remained in the educational and economic opportunities of women and girls and she would speak in detail about it next week in New York. She said she plans to black out her social media profile images on Sunday to take part in a program called "Not There" to raise awareness about gender inequality.
Thomas reported from Washington.