WASHINGTON -- Two worlds of Hillary Clinton intersected this past week. Together they underscored not only why the former first lady, senator and secretary of state is seen as perhaps the dominant unelected politician in the country today, but also the concerns among some of her Democratic supporters as she considers a return to the political arena in 2016.
As President Barack Obama and Clinton's successor at the State Department, John Kerry, grappled with responding to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons during a dizzying week of diplomacy and threats of military action, Clinton was enjoying a fresh round of accolades and honors. The contrast between her recent past life and her current life was striking.
On Tuesday, she was in Philadelphia, where she received the Liberty Medal at a ceremony at the National Constitution Center. On Friday, she was in Scotland, where she received an honorary degree from St. Andrews University, which was marking its 600th anniversary.
The Philadelphia ceremony concluded an hour before Obama addressed the nation on Syria. Clinton was speaking in Scotland as Kerry was in Switzerland negotiating with his Russian counterpart on eliminating Syria's chemical weapons stocks.
As both a former secretary of state and the prospective favorite for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton enjoys the freedom to operate in an almost idealized world. She is still in the public eye but mostly not in the line of fire.
For now, the hard decisions are someone else's responsibility.
This fall, Clinton will maintain this circuit, receiving awards from civic and other organizations while delivering paid speeches to private audiences along the way. She is already a draw on the strength of her impressive resume and her achievements during decades in public service. That she might also become president makes her all the more irresistible to organizations looking for someone to honor.
Clinton may be a year or more from a formal decision about running, but many of those turning out to hear her just assume that she will be a candidate, if not a winning candidate. It is never far below the surface when she appears and sometimes becomes explicit.
In Philadelphia, Amy Guttman, president of the University of Pennsylvania, told the audience, "A few decades ago, when I was a child, it would have been unthinkable for a woman to be president of the University of Pennsylvania, let along secretary of state of the United States, and something many of us can't wait to celebrate -- the first woman president of the United States."
The Philadelphia ceremony included elements that might have been scripted for the 2016 Democratic convention, with a highlight reel of Clinton's life and video tributes from people such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican who serves as chairman of the National Constitution Center, gave Clinton a warm introduction that included teasing references to possible competition with her in 2016.
In between Clinton's two public appearances this past week came unexpected news from a long-standing federal investigation into political corruption in the capital city, particularly the activities of Washington businessman Jeffrey Thompson.
Campaign financing probe
Investigators have been looking into Thompson's role in financing a shadow campaign set up to aid Clinton's 2008 presidential bid.
At a moment in early 2008, when Clinton's campaign was in trouble and in debt, her advisers were approached by Troy White, a New York marketing executive and music promoter, who wanted to set up "street teams" to help build support for Clinton in several states with upcoming primaries. According to court documents and subsequent reporting by Post reporters, the offer was rejected by Guy Cecil, the campaign's national political director.
Then, through the intercession of Minyon Moore, a senior adviser to Clinton, White's services were enlisted, not under the Clinton campaign umbrella but for a separate and seemingly secret operation. Thompson, who is under investigation for allegedly financing a secret operation for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, reportedly provided $600,000 in financing.
Federal prosecutors are believed to be focused on Thompson, not going after Clinton's campaign.
Still, it may point to systemic problems that plagued her first bid for the White House.