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In Defense of Hillary: Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, and those emails

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A reader comments: If you want to have an impact on this election I suggest you work on a rigorous defense and explanation of Hillary’s shortcomings and mistakes rather than focusing on what should be painfully obvious about Trump being the most worthless candidate possibly ever.”

Fair enough. Let’s go.

Trump’s flip-flop on immigration is the talk of the town, but really, when you think about it, he’s back-pedaled on every issue that has driven his campaign. The only promise he made that he hasn’t retracted, or “softened” to use his own parlance, is “The Wall.” He still swears he’ll build it. But we haven’t heard much rhetoric lately about making Mexico pay for it—Pena Nieto has flat-out stated there’s “no way” that will happen—and I will make this prediction, right here and now: before Election Day, Trump will “soften” his position on “The Wall.” Maybe we’ll get a little fence.

There’s one other issue Trump hasn’t back-pedaled on, although it’s not so much an “issue” as a mood, an attack, a slur: the “Crooked Hillary” thing. Allegations of HRC’s untrustworthiness predate Trump’s candidacy: the Republican smear machine has been busy working on Hillary for decades, as I pointed out last Monday.

All that Trump has done has been to double-down on the charges, and make them more insulting. Regarding the untrustworthiness, let’s put aside the emails, Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation for the moment, for the untrustworthy image was used against her before those issues arose. Where does it come from? I would wage not a single Hillary hater can actually point to anything specific, beyond a “mood” they’re pinning on her. The “scandals” of the Clinton presidency—every one of them manufactured by the right–are long gone. No charge or allegation against Hillary has ever stuck; every investigation, whether juridical or legislative or journalistic, has ended up dry. All that remains behind is the taint of something unsavory. But this smell was first cooked up by the Republican attack machine, then spread endlessly by Fox “News” and trash-talk rightwing radio. Little wonder some credulous voters think, “Well, if so many people say she’s crooked, she must be. After all, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Well, no, that’s not true. Where there’s smoke, there’s a Republican smoke machine.

Benghazi. Every official body that’s looked into it has concluded the Secretary did nothing wrong. Obviously, Americans died that day. Americans stationed overseas die from terrorist attacks during every presidency, but only during Barack Obama’s has one of the major political parties so politicized a terrible event for such malign purposes. When 241 American servicemen were killed in the Beirut bombing of 1983, nobody blamed President Reagan. Democrats stood loyally by his side. When nearly 3,000 people were killed during the Sept. 11 attacks, nobody blamed President George W. Bush. Democrats once again stood loyally by his side. What was different about Benghazi? Nothing. Horrible things happen, and the best a government can do is to learn from them and try to do better in the future.

It used to be said that “Politics stops at the water’s edge.” It still does with Democrats, but Republicans have abandoned every pretense at patriotism with these ramped-up, baseless charges. You would think that every sensible American understands this, but then, Republicans abandoned common sense when they declared war on the Clintons (and the Obamas). Tragic as it was, Benghazi cannot be blamed on Hillary Clinton. We’re at war, folks, and unless you close all the embassies, their personnel are going to remain at some risk, especially in dangerous zones like North Africa. When–not “if”–that happens next, Democrats will rally behind whoever is President.

Then there are the emails. Hillary chose, for reasons of convenience, to have two email accounts, her own personal one and a State Department one, and she sometimes overlapped them, mixing business with personal communications. I’ve done the same thing: I have always had a personal account and a business one, and I bet a lot of you do, too. What’s wrong with that? Republicans say, “It showed bad judgment.” Really? Worse judgment than G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney launching the Iraq War? Worse judgment than Trump calling Mexicans rapists and criminals? Worse judgment than McCain’s choosing the imbecilic Sarah Palin? Worse judgment than W. Bush letting banks run amok with indefensible home loans? Worse judgment than Trump embracing white supremacy? Worse judgment than a Republican Party utterly unable to stand up to the National Rifle Association’s bullying? Come on.

Did Hillary inadvertently include classified information in her personal emails? Perhaps—at least, to some extent; there are different levels of “classified.” But not even the FBI could find any reason to criminally pursue her. Comey had to finger-wag her (for political reasons), but trust me, if he could have, he would have brought charges. He couldn’t—because the evidence just wasn’t there; and, Republicans notwithstanding, America remains at the moment a nation of laws. And yet, Republicans will not let go. They will ride this limping, panting horse until it collapses from underneath them. But the damage is done: some percentage of Americans have had their brains hacked by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and so will go to their graves insisting “Hillary gave national security secrets to the [fill-in-the-blank: Russians, commies, terrorists, Lesbians, Martians, ISIS]. She cannot be trusted.” Well, last word on the emails: She won’t do it again, and neither will any future Secretary of State, or Cabinet member for that matter, not in this day and age; for we have a brand new rule, the “Hillary Rule”: no secondary email accounts! By the way, Colin Powell, a Republican Secretary of State, also “used a personal email account.” But Democrats didn’t go after Powell because nobody cared, and nobody should care about Hillary’s emails, either.

And now we come to the Clinton Foundation. As I blogged the other day, the Foundation is the singularly most effective social- and environmental-activist group in the world.” How did it get there? By knowing and befriending the world’s most powerful people. Clinton’s modus was obvious from the beginning: as the most popular human being on Earth after he left the Presidency (some called him “President of the World”), Bill Clinton took advantage of those relationships to essentially wangle money from rich people, countries and institutions, in order to pay for medicine, research and relief efforts around the globe. Does anyone have a problem with that? Clinton tapped his daughter to help him. Got a problem with Chelsea? And Hillary helped. Did she use her position as Secretary of State in order to gain leverage with these wealthy donors? Probably she did. Did Hillary charm some Saudi prince or Russian oligarch at her and Bill’s Whitehaven Street home in D.C. to get them to pony up a quarter-million to help teach modern farming to poor people in Rwanda and Tanzania? Probably yes. Got a problem with that? Why? Did that Saudi prince or Russian oligarch benefit from their relationship with Hillary and Bill? Prove it, my friend. If you can’t, then shut up.

(By the way, who the hell has Trump ever helped in his entire life? Since he won’t release his tax returns, we don’t know if he even gives 2 cents to charity. He’s a greedy old geezer who lives in mansions and skips out on his bills to the struggling vendors he hires.)

Speaking of benefit, what would have been Hillary’s motive in coaxing money from rich people for the Clinton Foundation, beyond the philanthropic element? Cui bono, the lawyers ask: Who benefits? The people of the world whom the Clinton Foundation helped. That’s who benefited. Got a problem with that?

But wait, Republicans say: Bill and Hillary benefited too. They are now very wealthy people. Well, yes, but how did they make their money? Not through the Clinton Foundation. Nobody is alleging the Saudis or anyone else paid the Clintons money. (Well, nobody except the likes of Breitbart, and they make this crap up.) Bill and Hillary made their money the same way Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush made their money when they left the White House: through writing books and giving speeches. If you want to pass a law or Constitutional amendment forbidding former Presidents (or First ladies, or Cabinet officers) from writing memoirs or giving speeches, feel free. But don’t hold it against Hillary (or Bill) that they did something that was (a) perfectly legal, (b) guided by precedent and (c) that you, yourself, no doubt would do, if you could. As a matter of fact, Forbes Magazine (hardly a defender of the Left) did a little digging on politicians giving paid speeches, and guess what? “An examination of the highest speaking fees ever paid puts Donald Trump on top with the staggering $1.5 million the Learning Annex paid him for each speech he delivered at the company’s real estate ‘wealth expos’ in 2006 and 2007.” How about that, Trumpsters? Are you up in arms about Donald’s conflicts of interest?

(And by the way, here are some of The Learning Annex’s major publications: “Intro to Pole Dancing,” “Make Contact with Lost Loved Ones” and “How to Marry the Rich.” There is no evidence—yet—that Melania read the latter book before she snared her current husband.)

Does some of what Hillary did look questionable? Sure. The Goldman Sachs lecture is wince-worthy. But, hey, Ronald Reagan made a ton of money as General Electric’s paid speaker and nobody held that against him when he was President and his administration was awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to G.E. As for former President George W. Bush (whose name no Republican dares mention), his standard speaking fee is in the low six figures, and to date he’s earned at least $15 million from speaking. So what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so to speak.

Look, it’s easy to imagine all sorts of unsavory, quid-pro-quo things happening behind closed doors. We’ve seen enough movies and read enough political thrillers to be conditioned for that, and the Republican machine takes every opportunity to amplify it. They did it again in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, where their nastiest columnist, Kimberley Strassel, officially dubbed Hillary’s State Department “the U.S. Department of Clinton” and accused Hillary of running “a secret, ongoing” cabal she sought to hide from the public and Congress. This is bullshit red-meat rhetoric for the haters, but once again, Strassel can prove nothing, despite weeks and months of ongoing investigations that have resulted in squat. In a country, America, where we cherish a system of jurisprudence based on fairness, evidence and the law, we have a Republican Party that has abandoned fairness, evidence and the law, in order to pursue an agenda of vigilante vengeance: an immature agenda, like a little child who can’t eat all the candy she wants and will stamp her feet and scream until Mommy relents. This is why Trump is dropping in the polls: Clinton is up in every recent one, because the mendacity of Trump and the Republican attack machine is turning people off. The more that Republicans rant on about Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s email server, the more swing voters are starting to wonder: Hey, why aren’t they talking about my issues? Here’s the answer: Because they can’t. They have nothing to say.

So, dear reader, this is my “rigorous defense” of Hillary. I hope it’s good enough for you. If not, you’re unpersuadable.

  1. I’d say that’s a solid effort, Steve, though I’m not the target audience for it.

    And it appears that your prediction is already coming true — NBC’s Hallie Jackson is reporting that Trump may be shifting to more of a “virtual wall” (i.e. cameras and drones).

  2. Start with these facts:
    — The GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers — the highest number in the history of the party.
    — Republicans currently hold the governorship and both houses of the legislature in 23 states, while Democrats have that level of control in only seven.
    — Republicans control both houses of the US Congress and even after the death of Antonin Scalia, still hold sway on the Supreme Court.

    If Republicans capture the presidency, they will have control of all three branches of the government. If this happens, you can throw the notion of checks and balances out the window and kiss our democracy goodbye. Add in these facts:

    — In 2010, Republican control of state legislatures enabled them to gerrymander congressional districts throughout the country to ensure Republicans retain control of their seats for at least 10 years, even when more votes are cast for Democratic candidates.
    — Charles & David Koch own Koch Industries, the second largest private company in the country (oil refineries, chemicals, lumber & paper products). The Koch brothers push their radical libertarian political agenda through a network of tax deductible ‘philanthropic’ charities, ‘social welfare’ groups, think tanks and foundations funded by a small cartel of libertarian billionaires that have helped fund items noted above.
    — The Koch brothers (combined personal wealth in excess of $80 billion) have created a money laundering network that has funded the presidential campaigns of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Mike Pence is a favorite of the Koch brothers. The network’s pledged dark money rivals the war chests of both major political parties and their super PACS.
    — The Koch’s primary political agenda is 1) no taxes on the wealthy, and 2) no environmental regulations. Koch Industries is the single largest environmental polluter in the US.

    Although Trump made a big deal of self-funding his primary campaign and the Koch brothers have indicated they will stay out of the presidential contest, preferring to fund down-ballot races, the general election may change this (Trump’s softer message is one example). I would not rule out a significant dark money push for the Trump/Pence ticket and an acceleration of attack ads on Clinton funded by their network.

    At the end of her excellent book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Jane Mayer relates a telling story about Charles Koch. “As a child, he used to tell an unfunny joke. When called upon to split a treat with others, he would say with a wise-guy grin, ‘I just want my fair share—which is all of it.’” The prospect of having a president dance to his tune might just be too tempting for Charles Koch.

  3. Ed Gentalen says:

    I’m enjoying your political essays as much as the wine commentary. I know Donald is going down in flames, big time, but I’m going to be a little jumpy until it happens.

    Best of luck in retirement.

  4. Dear Ed Gentalen, thanks. In my experience, there’s no such thing as a done deal in elections. Trump may win — we have to work out asses off to make sure he doesn’t!

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