Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016.


Justice May Be Blind, But Ethics Needs to See

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Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump’s new campaign team seems to have gotten him focused on a real-world issue that could do Clinton damage — the Clinton Foundation.  “Trump began this week hammering her for the Clinton Foundation, an organization created by her and her husband former President Bill Clinton, which uses private donations to fund aid programs in developing countries.”

I have in the past defended the Clinton Foundation, because it actually has done a lot of good. Unlike some other foundations it doesn’t just hand out grants, but actually implements programs itself to benefit people. And I do not believe the Clintons could get away with using the CF as a slush fund to enrich themselves without getting caught, although I assume they pay themselves from it as much as they are lawfully allowed.

But that doesn’t mean there’s not a problem. Jonathan Chait wrote a few days ago,

“Give a man a reputation as an early riser,” said Mark Twain, “and he can sleep ‘til noon.” Hillary Clinton finds herself in the opposite situation: She has a reputation for venality — the merits of which we can set aside momentarily — that forces her to a higher ethical standard. Her inadequate response to the conflicts of interest inherent in the Clinton Foundation show that she is not meeting that standard, and has not fully grasped the severity of her reputational problem.

The inherent conflict is, of course, that she’s accused of using her position as Secretary of State to sell favors to foreign governments and corporations and friends who donated to the Foundation. And every time some more emails from somewhere trickle out, new accusations blossom in right-wing media.

So far, however, no one has been able to document a direct quid pro quo. But again, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a problem.

According to experts, the emails confirm donors were gaining access to Clinton, yet there is no evidence she granted them special favors, an important distinction that may determine how damaging the controversy is to Clinton’s campaign.

“These emails show that there was a long line of Clinton Foundation friends who had no qualms about asking the Clinton State Department for meetings, favors, and special treatment,” said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO. “Not shocking, but it is disappointing that there were such blurred lines between State Department officials and outsiders. I see little action on these latest requests, but I think further investigation is needed.”

Bill announced that if Hillary is elected, the Foundation would stop taking donations from foreign governments. What I hadn’t realized was that it stopped taking money from foreign governments in 2009, when Hillary became Secretary of State. But it resumed taking such donations in February 2015, which was just about the time Hillary had locked up the presidential nomination with Democratic Party insiders and money backers.

And, anyway, the foreign governments thing isn’t the only problem. What about corporations like petroleum companies that might want to influence U.S. policy?

Why couldn’t they see that could be a problem? It’s similar to the situation with Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches — why wouldn’t see have seen those might end up biting her? Why was she so determined to not release transcripts? People gripe that Clinton is owned by corporations, and this is why.

She’s gotten away with a lot this year through a combination of dishonest redirection (“Look! a Bernie Bro!”) and the fact that Donald Trump has been running the dumbest presidential campaign in U.S. history.  But when called upon to defend herself from legitimate questions and criticisms, time and time again she’s botched it.

I’ve lost track of the stories she’s given about the State Department emails, when a simple “I had a server set up that was more secure” would have sufficed, and even might have been true. More recently she tried to claim that she set up the private server on the advice of Colin Powell. Then Colin Powell denied this. Oops! On to the next excuse, I guess.

Back to Jonathan Chait:

The Clinton Foundation is hardly a large or unique source of corruption in American politics. It is, however, a source of grubby, low-level access headaches. That is the takeaway from the latest batch of State Department emails. The emails do not show that Clinton Foundation donors received any policy favors from Hillary Clinton or other elected officials. What they show is that people who donated to the foundation believed they were owed favors by Clinton’s staffers, and at least one of those staffers — the odious Doug Band — shared this belief. Band, for instance, called the crown prince of Bahrain, who donated millions to the foundation, a “good friend of ours.” …

…As Ben Wallace-Wells recently observed, the internal culture revealed by the Clinton emails is mostly one of earnest bureaucratic befuddlement, not corruption. The favors amounted to requests for meetings that may or may not have been granted. The foundation’s donors were a class of prospective sugar daddies to be fended off.

At the same time, criminality is not the correct standard to which a public official ought to be held. From the standpoint of both good government and Hillary Clinton’s political image, the correct course of action is to transfer the Clinton Foundation’s work to some other charitable entity with no connection to the prospective First Couple.

Now Bill is saying he will leave the Clinton Foundation if Hillary is elected. That will be necessary, although knowing the Right the Foundation will continue to be a boogeyman the same way they continue to blame ACORN for their election woes, even though ACORN shut down in 2010.

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