Yes, The Clintons Are Uniquely Corrupt: A Grand Finale Essay
Note from MT: This essay was completed several weeks ago, before news broke of the reopened FBI criminal investigation into Hillary’s unsanctioned private email server. Thus, it was also written before news of the FBI’s criminal probe of the Clinton Foundation was confirmed. I’ve made minor edits to reference the fact that the election is occurring on Tuesday, as well as in a few other areas, but essentially everything else has been left in tact. Consider it a snapshot in time from around October 15, 2016.
For months upon months, the friction evident in the Republican Party has been an object of constant, perhaps even obsessive media fascination. And for good reason: Donald Trump’s rollercoaster candidacy certainly exposed fault-lines within the GOP’s unwieldy coalition that merited close examination, not to mention mockery. How the “party of Reagan” transmogrified into the “party of Trump” is a question doubtless worth pondering, and it will indeed be pondered for many years to come. Whoever wins on Tuesday, after this election cycle it will be a historical fact that the modern “Conservative Movement” — shepherded into existence by the likes of William F. Buckley — entered the thrall of a reality TV show star and beauty pageant proprietor with no prior governing experience.
A question asked far less frequently, however, is how the Democratic Party entered the thrall of a widely-despised, historically unpopular, scandal-ridden candidate who at present appears to be statistically tied in the polls with the beauty pageant proprietor. Hillary Clinton’s flaws are manifold and have been well-known for ages; as just one example, prominent Democratic operatives groused behind the scenes long before the 2016 campaign formally began that malfeasance related to the Clinton Foundation would certainly become a major electoral liability. Their surmise was correct.
I’ll drill down on the Foundation later in this essay, but it’s also worth briefly summarizing her other prominent blemishes. She’s supported every failed US military intervention of the past 25 years, and in the case of the Iraq War was one of its most recalcitrant, dead-end defenders. Perhaps it’s lost to history now, but Hillary just wasn’t a staunch war supporter; she was one of the very few people in the country who had a direct role in actually facilitating the war. Wary Democrats were rallied to the cause of invasion not because they had any particular affinity with George W. Bush, but because prominent national figures in the party — foremost among them Hillary — gave the war their imprimatur. In October 2002, speaking on the floor of the Senate, Hillary justified her war authorization vote by invoking 9/11: “I think New Yorkers, who have gone through the fires of hell, may be more attuned to the risk of not acting,” she proclaimed. “I know I am.” And that’s only scratching the surface of her blighted foreign policy record (see also: Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Honduras, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen.) Despite claiming to have learned the “lessons” of the Iraq catastrophe, nothing about her subsequent conduct would indicate that she learned a darn thing.
As a flashback, here’s what Obama had to say about Hillary in a brutal 2008 campaign ad:
Obama: “I’m Barack Obama, running for president and I approve this message.”
Announcer: “It’s what’s wrong with politics today. Hillary Clinton will say anything to get elected. Now she’s making false attacks on Barack Obama.
“The Washington Post says Clinton isn’t telling the truth. Obama ‘did not say that he liked the ideas of Republicans.’ In fact, Obama’s led the fight to raise the minimum wage, close corporate tax loopholes and cut taxes for the middle class.
“But it was Hillary Clinton, in an interview with Tom Brokaw, who quote ‘paid tribute’ to Ronald Reagan’s economic and foreign policy. She championed NAFTA –- even though it has cost South Carolina thousands of jobs. And worst of all, it was Hillary Clinton who voted for George Bush’s war in Iraq.
“Hillary Clinton. She’ll say anything, and change nothing. It’s time to turn the page. Paid for by Obama for America.”
And then there’s an issue that went curiously un-litigated during the drawn-out Democratic primary this year against Bernie Sanders: the Clintons’ documented record of smearing and discrediting women who’ve accused Bill of sexual improprieties. Hillary wasn’t a hapless bystander for these campaigns; she actively coordinated and orchestrated them, according to a report from the notoriously anti-Clinton New York Times — *cue laugh track.* Not only did the Clintons actively deceive the public for the sake of political expediency, they marshaled government resources in their quest to undermine inconvenient females. So the questions around the Clintons’ conduct in this arena have nothing necessarily to do with private sexual activities, but public wrongdoing.
Then you have the question of “the email scandal,” her lackluster Senate record, her constant flattery of Wall Street, her personal unpopularity with scores of young voters: This is the best the Democratic Party could do? Seriously? Where are painstaking inquiries into what led to this state of affairs, as we’ve seen ad nauseum on the Republican side?
One theory: while liberal journalists are scintillated by putting wackadoodle GOP blowhards under the microscope, they bristle at any commensurate self-examination. Because they are already the arbiters of all that is truthful and Good, they need no critical exegesis in their own right, especially when you’ve got frenzied Republicans chanting USA! USA! at Trump rallies. (Oh wait, Democrats also did that chanting thing recently, at the Democratic convention, in primetime, just before Hillary’s acceptance speech.)
On top of everything else, Hillary has the distinction of being the first major-party nominee to have been publicly condemned by top federal law enforcement authorities for “extremely careless” conduct over the course of her official duties, as well as committing acts which could conceivably be construed as “potential violations of statutes,” to quote FBI director James Comey. It’s worth recalling that for a full year and a half — since March 2015, when the New York Times first broke the story — Clinton loyalists have worked overtime to insist that the “email issue” was nothing of consequence, and merely boiled down to yet another Republican-led witch-hunt to tarnish their dear Hillary, just as they’ve been doing for decades.
Back in July 2015, when the New York Times further disclosed the existence of a FBI criminal investigation targeting Hillary in particular, liberal media partisans absolutely flipped out. Eric Boehlert, figurehead of the Clinton-allied organ Media Matters, called the report “fictitious” and launched a ferocious campaign to undermine the NYT journalists’ credibility. But the journalists were proven 100% correct: FBI records released after the conclusion of the investigation showed that Hillary was indeed personally the target of a criminal investigation from the very beginning.
By artfully referring to the broader issue here as “the emails,” Clinton loyalists have succeeded in trivializing the true nature of the malefaction at hand. First of all, “the emails” are not mere piffling electronic correspondences, but official government records. These records are to be preserved per the dictates of both federal law (The Federal Records Act) and internal State Department regulations, which were implemented to comply with the Federal Records Act. Hillary directly violated these strictures, per the State Department’s own internal assessment. She then attributed her violation of the strictures to a concussion she suffered in December 2012, citing that medical episode to explain her apparent inability to follow information retention protocols set forth by the department she headed at the time. Incredibly, the Clinton legal team also made a conscious effort to rebuff the Inspector General of the very agency she once led, refusing to comply with its investigation into the email matter. (All other Secretaries of State complied.)
In part because of liberal groups’ general indifference to the “email scandal,” it’s fallen to partisan conservative entities like Judicial Watch and Citizens United to fill the void left by media outlets and obtain email records that had been studiously concealed by the State Department. To do so, they used the notoriously right-wing tool known as the Freedom of Information Act. To obtain vital government records. Sadistic, no?
In truth, “the email scandal” is a shorthand for an ever-expanding web of misconduct and intrigue. In true Clintonian fashion, the initial wrongdoing was rationalized, covered up, and even lied about, and then it predictably spiraled out of control and led to other areas of wrongdoing and potential criminality. These additional acts are also then rationalized, covered up, and lied about, and the beat goes on. Key records pertaining to the email matter were destroyed, just as Hillary directed the destruction of key records during the so-called “Whitewater” imbroglio several decades ago.
You thereby end up with the same kind of slow-moving morass that drowns out all else. The 1990s version of this death spiral culminated with Bill Clinton’s impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice. It remains to be seen what the current version will culminate in; Congressional investigators are still diligently pressing the email issue, and certain irregularities with the nature of the FBI investigation justify their continued efforts. So it’s never simply about “the emails” — it’s about the extent to which the Clintons’ handling of “the emails” elucidates the way they operate their dynastic political machine.
One prime way Clinton partisans have long dismissed “the email” controversy is by claiming that there is nothing particularly scandalous or noteworthy to be found in them. Some, including Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum, have proclaimed that the email episode demonstrates why government transparency has gone too far and the Freedom of Information Act ought to be curtailed. In order for a person to believe that the emails revealed nothing of note, at least one of the following would have to be true:
- The person did not actually read through the emails
- The person does not believe foreign policy and government corruption are noteworthy
Some of the most obviously noteworthy emails, which were released in the initial batch in 2015, showed that the aides surrounding Hillary at the State Department — including potential high-level Clinton administration appointee Jake Sullivan — plotted ways to assign her maximum credit for the then-ongoing Libya intervention. This was back in August 2011, when it was looking like a smashing success. According to these communications, Libya was supposed to be her marquee accomplishment, perhaps to be touted in a forthcoming presidential campaign.
Sidney Blumenthal, the longtime Clinton consigliere, also advocated for the Libya intervention as a political winner for Hillary, another fact we would not know but for the email release. Yet another 2011 exchange between Hillary and General Jack Keane also showed that the Libya fiasco was never a humanitarian effort, but a full-scale regime change operation, despite the Obama Administration’s public assurances to the contrary. (Hillary now demands a “No-Fly Zone” in Syria.)
Then there’s the issue of government corruption. Many of the most damning emails, concealed in some cases until just the past month, reveal that the workings of the Clinton Foundation were obviously merged with State Department business. This has direct implications for what governance would look like under a future Clinton Administration. Bill himself confided in a recent Daily Show interview his view that the Clinton Foundation should serve as a “model” for the federal government — presumably, given that Bill would reclaim huge political power upon re-entering the White House, he plans to implement this belief in practice. (Hillary announced in May that Bill would be put in charge of fixing the economy, and anybody who’s followed his career knows that he’d inevitably insert himself into twelve political controversies a week.) Sadly, Daily Show host Trevor Noah neglected to ask any followup questions, and instead chose to flatter Bill’s amazing acumen, intellect, and selflessness.
“The emails” have also shown that high-level Clinton aides such as Cheryl Mills did Clinton Foundation work while in the employ of the State Department, which is disallowed. (Mills also worked on Bill’s impeachment trial, so she knows the game.) We are told by loyalists that her conduct was completely innocuous, and that this and every other perceived ethical infraction was really no big deal. Carry on. Hillary campaign spokespeople have taken to trumpeting one talking point in particular over and over again. All criticism is misguided, the Clinton flacks insist, because notwithstanding any unfortunate missteps, the level of transparency that the Foundation has imposed on itself is “unprecedented.” They’ve gone above and beyond what is required of them, we are assured — not to worry!
Leave aside for the moment that maintaining a vast, sprawling quasi-governmental apparatus to operate in conjunction with its namesake’s tenure as Secretary of State is itself “unprecedented.”
If the Foundation is truly so wonderfully transparent, why not take a few easy steps to underscore the point? One way to demonstrate its commitment to transparency would be to make people like Mills and Doug Band — the longtime Clinton fixer who previously headed up Foundation operations and has been implicated in a number of damning emails — available for media interviews so the precise nature of their conduct can be ascertained. Thus far, Band has been hidden from view, repeatedly turning down press requests for comment. Email after email now shows that Band improperly colluded with State Department officials to attain preferential treatment for high-roller Foundation donors, frequently in concert with Huma Abedin. (Doug is Bill’s former bodyman, and Huma is Hillary’s current bodywoman. How sweet!) There is clearly a public interest in getting Band on the record to explain his past activities. If this is all just one big misunderstanding, why can’t we hear directly from the man himself? Emails released by WikiLeaks also show that his politicking was seen as highly worrisome by various Foundation actors, including Chelsea Clinton, who reportedly relayed misgivings about his conduct to one of George W. Bush’s daughters, in a sordid game of dynastic whack-a-mole.
Band’s centrality to this tale is difficult to overstate. In a 2013 investigation for The New Republic, Alec MacGillis cited the Foundation’s network of donors as absolutely integral to the furtherance of the Clintons’ political ambitions; Hillary “has made the family foundation her base as she contemplates a presidential run,” he wrote. So it’s wrong to draw any sharp distinction between the Clintons’ philanthropic and political endeavors — they are both means to the same end, which is seeking power. For years, it was Band who oversaw this power accrual — courting donors and managing Bill’s personal schedule, which naturally included copious donor hobnobbing.
Furthermore, in the interest of full transparency, why does the Foundation not call on the State Department to hasten the release of crucial records pertaining to Hillary’s tenure as chief administrator of that agency — records which are still being concealed from the public 3.5 years after she left office? The Associated Press, whose blockbuster Foundation story in August enraged Clinton partisans and launched them into another furious PR blitz, also reported that the judge presiding over their lawsuit to compel disclosure of the records has accused the State Department of attempting to “run out the clock” till Election Day, depriving voters of crucial material to inform their decision-making. It doesn’t take a genius to speculate about the reasons why State Department functionaries might desire to “run out the clock.” If there is nothing improper to be found in the records — which include detailed schedules documenting with whom Hillary met or had phone calls on a daily basis — then Clinton loyalists should be eager to see them released forthwith.
By the way, does anyone else wonder why the so-called “vast right-wing conspiracy” — which Hillary infamously blamed in the 1990s for tormenting her and her husband, at the suggestion of Sidney Blumenthal — was so ineffectual at ferreting out anything remotely actionable on Barack Obama over the past eight years, but seems to find inculpatory material on the Clintons every other day? It’s worth recalling: the central right-wing populist thesis against Obama, shouted far and wide since he assumed office, was that he secretly endeavored to bring down the American government from within on account of his stealth Islamist beliefs. And yet, the “vast” apparatus was laughably incapable of producing anything legitimately scandalous on the guy. But they’re always turning up evidence of one Clinton infraction or another. Odd!
Perhaps the genesis for this disparity lies in a genuine contrast in attitudes toward ethics between Obama and the Clintons. This is made most plain by the fact that the Clintons repeatedly violated the ethics agreement they brokered with the then-incoming Obama administration in 2008, which was to govern how the Foundation would function while Hillary served in the State Department. The latest violation appears to have been an undisclosed $1 million contribution that Bill apparently received as a “birthday gift” from the government of Qatar in 2011, while Hillary was Secretary of State. Obama specifically brokered a deal with the Clintons to avoid just such conflicts, but apparently the deal was flouted.
Remember, the recent flood of Clinton Foundation stories comes notwithstanding the confirmed concealment or destruction of thousands of public records which likely would shed even further light on what exactly has gone down all these years. We now know with certitude that Clinton staff used “non-reversible software” called BleachBit to permanently delete an unknown number of “work-related emails,” contrary to Hillary’s repeated claims that all “work-related emails” were in fact turned over to the State Department in December 2014. BleachBit happily touted on its website that the efficacy of the product was evidenced by its ability to totally thwart all manner of governmental investigations into Hillary’s affairs. That records with evidentiary value were permanently destroyed had already been announced by FBI director James Comey in July, whose infamous denunciation of Hillary included the disclosure that her staff had deleted thousands of files so as to “preclude forensic discovery.”
You can bet your bottom dollar that if the “email scandal” were engulfing the Republican presidential nominee, liberal-leaning media and related outfits would have gone absolutely wild, obsessing over every last detail and heralding each new development as comparable in importance to the Second Coming of Christ. Instead, because it bears on the Clintons, and Trump is frantically portrayed as such a scary world-historic menace, liberal media icons typically just shrug and change the subject.
“Clintons” is used here as a plural here intentionally. Bill has been largely shielded from media scrutiny throughout the 2016 campaign. Were he ever made available for interviews, journalists might query him about his role in Foundation improprieties, as well as a range of other pressing issues that would have direct relevance in any forthcoming Clinton administration. He’s the one who created the Foundation and oversaw its activities while Hillary ran the State Department. As a former president who presided over controversies during two terms in office that are still not settled, it should be manifestly obvious that he’s not a typical candidate spouse and ought to be subject to higher scrutiny than say, Melania Trump.
Yet he has been all but completely hidden from the press over the course of the 2016 campaign, every once in awhile deigning to grant a softball interview on comedy programs like the Daily Show or with his vacation partner Charlie Rose. Most candidate spouses provide some measure of press access, however tightly controlled. But Bill, a master media maven who undoubtedly would have an outsized role in any prospective Clinton White House — Hillary even declared in May that he’d be delegated an explicit policy-oriented role — has been mostly absent for many months. Media observers take this state of affairs as a given, or sometimes even cheer Bill’s newfound “self-control.“ But all it does is wall off the Clintons from further scrutiny.
This avoidance of media oversight has incubated a kind of paranoid mentality among panicked Clintonistas, who have imputed nefarious right-wing motives to outfits ranging from the Associated Press, America’s premiere investigative news outfit, to the New York Times, America’s paper of record. When the New York Times editorial board called on the Clintons to sever all ties with the Foundation, they too must have been implicated in the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” which seems to encompass everybody not paid directly by a Clinton-connected entity.
Anyone with a lick of common sense — including Democrats who privately worried about the specter of Foundation revelations for years — would have known that in addition to being substantively unethical, these stories could cause a political firestorm. That the Clintons and their staff nevertheless saw fit to run around committing dubious ethical act after dubious ethical act suggests a stunning level of hubris and insularity within their orbit. Which is an ominous foreshadow for how they’d run the executive branch come 2017.
It is repeated over and over again as a kind of solemn mantra that the Foundation has “done good work,” but where’s the hard evidence for this claim? The Foundation has never been independently audited by a neutral body, although WikiLeaks emails show that a law firm did conduct an audit of its finances in 2012, shortly after Band left the Foundation to pursue personal enrichment at a “consulting” firm.
Precious few journalistic assessments of the Foundation’s practices exist, but where they have been conducted, the verdicts have been almost uniformly negative. Ken Silverstein reported in Fusion that its endeavors in Colombia have been a swindling, exploitative flop, and appear mostly tailored to furthering the business interests of billionaire Canadian business magnate and Foundation mega donor Frank Giustra. And in 2011, Isabel Macdonald and Isabeau Doucet reported for The Nation on the Foundation’s disastrous “relief” efforts in Haiti.
Given what we do know about the Foundation, it’s far from obvious that its main pursuit was “good works,” rather than accruing political power in the form of a 21st century Tammany Hall-style patronage machine. Sidney Blumenthal was a Clinton Foundation employee until he transitioned over to Clinton-allied Media Matters. Pro-Clinton Twitter propagandist Peter Daou was also employed by the Foundation. In the wake of a raft of fundraising-related scandals in the 1990s, when the Clintons were exposed for having engaged in such indignities as renting out the Lincoln Bedroom and Camp David to donors, the late Christopher Hitchens summarized their approach to power accrual: “The transmutation of public office into private interest and visa versa.”
It’s that very instinct which has continued full-bore with the Clinton Foundation and both of Hillary’s presidential campaigns; there’s every reason to believe it would continue under a Second Clinton Administration. Because their innumerable ethical breaches still haven’t been adequately litigated, expect another four or eight years of this junk.