Former President Bill Clinton turned down an $8 million, two-year offer to become the honorary chairman of the media venture that would become the news site Vocativ, according to private documents from 2011 released by Wikileaks.
Vocativ, which Clinton declined to join, went on to launch in 2013 as an Internet publication that aims to gather news by mining “the deep web” using its own proprietary technology. According to Wikileaks, Vocativ founder Mati Kochavi made the $8 million dollar offer to Clinton when his germinating venture was still called “Lightning”.
Kochavi, an entrepreneur from Israel, is the founder of AGT International, a Zurich-based firm that provided security services to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Flush with Arab cash, Kochavi and his New York business partner, the attorney Marty Edelman, were looking for the biggest of names to headline Lightning.
According to Wikileaks, Kochavi and Edelman were already early clients of Teneo, the consulting business founded by Bill Clinton’s adherents. In 2010, Kochavi, who was positioning himself as a thought leader, had addressed the Clinton Global Initiative in New York about Haiti.
Wikileaks’ Vocativ revelations are one example of how Clinton found himself, post-presidency, navigating the murky world of international businessmen seeking to buy his imprimatur. Kochavi has been described as “a mysterious and even somewhat shady character” and the Israeli “version of the old-fashioned arms dealer with a suit and MBA” by the progressive Jewish blog Tikkun Olam.
At the time he tried to hire Clinton, Kochavi –- who employed numerous former Israeli intelligence officers — was one of a small number of Israelis with sizable business interests in the United Arab Emirates, which formally bars doing business with Israel.
After failing to land Bill Clinton, Kochavi cycled through a series of American executives to join his media venture. Talent agency William Morris Endeavor bought a stake in Vocativ in 2014, and its executive committee is now chaired by Vivian Schiller, as part of her broader portfolio of consulting clients.
The 2011 documents revealed by Wikileaks indicate that the Clinton Foundation made a counter proposal to Kochavi:
I went back to Mati and proposed a new structure without any business connectivity other than 4 speeches for $1 million and $250k to the foundation should President Clinton choose to accept it. That would also include any broadcasting of foundation events or anything President Clinton would like exposure for on his website.
It’s unknown what came of this proposal, but in 2012, Kochavi and Clinton were interviewed together by Maria Bartiromo for a CNBC special.
Vocativ, which still employs dozens of people in New York and Israel, has been marked by high turnover and has struggled to grow an audience. According to Comscore, Vocativ had 3.6 million unique users in September of 2016 – a precipitous drop from 7.65 million in January. The similarly named Vox — which launched at about the same time as Vocativ and also does data journalism — drew 17 million unique users in September.