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“A Little Noticed Brief”: Justice Department; Clinton’s Email Practices Were Permissible

In the spring, Republicans, a variety of reporters, and much of the Beltway establishment was convinced: there was a real “scandal” surrounding Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation’s international donors. In time, the allegations crumbled, the controversy evaporated, and the political world lost interest in the story that didn’t stand up to scrutiny. There just was no there there.

Over the summer, the same Republicans, many of the same reporters, and much of the Beltway establishment was once again convinced: there was a real “scandal” surrounding Hillary Clinton and her email server management. Given the latest revelations, it’s starting to look like deja vu all over again.

The Obama administration told a federal court Wednesday that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was within her legal rights to use of her own email account, to take the messages with her when she left office and to be the one deciding which of those messages are government records that should be returned.

In the most complete legal defense of Mrs. Clinton, Justice Department lawyers insisted they not only have no obligation, but no power, to go back and demand the former top diplomat turn over any documents she hasn’t already given – and neither, they said, can the court order that.

The Associated Press, BuzzFeed, and the New York Times had similar reports on this “little noticed brief.”

So, let me get this straight. Clinton used a private email server. The State Department said this was allowed. The Justice Department came to the same conclusion. The FBI isn’t investigating her.

I know we’re supposed to think this is a “scandal,” and the coverage has successfully convinced plenty of voters that this “controversy” is evidence of some unnamed nefarious misdeeds, but the rationale for taking this story seriously is looking pretty thin.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post published a lengthy, front-page piece over the weekend that reported Clinton’s personal, deleted emails may yet be recoverable by technicians. I’m not sure why these personal, deleted emails should be an area of interest in a presidential campaign; in fact I’m not sure why any candidate’s personal, deleted emails should be scrutinized.

And yet, over the weekend, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairmen of the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, respectively, said “they would push for the deleted e-mails to be reviewed if they can be recovered.”

Of course they would.

Why, exactly, should Hillary Clinton’s personal emails receive scrutiny that no candidate, in either party, has ever had to face? I have no idea, but congressional Republicans seem serious anyway.

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum added, sarcastically, “I’m sure the nation’s security hinges on this. And if Hillary’s personal emails are successfully recovered, I’m equally sure that a few of the most embarrassing ones will somehow get leaked to friendly reporters.”

Count on it.

In the meantime, if someone can explain why this is literally a front-page story for months, while Jeb Bush’s identical email issue is considered a non-story, I’m eager to hear the explanation.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 14, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, Justice Department | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fairness And Accuracy, Not Loyalty To Any Politician”: Vendetta Or Paranoia? The ‘Times,’ The ‘Beast,’ And The Clintons

When Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast showed up in my email yesterday, asking me to talk about the New York Times and the Clintons, I should have known what to expect. I’m sure Grove did his best (and I appreciate the link to our new e-book, The Hunting of Hillary), but his post left much to be desired.

Grove’s fundamental mistake is to skew the discussion of alleged Times bias against the Clintons as Pulitzer-winning Times editors and staffers versus “diehard Clinton loyalists” and “allies.” Evidently, anyone who criticizes media coverage of Bill and Hillary Clinton falls in that latter category — and so he condescends to describe me as such. Whatever my views about the Clintons, however, my concern is fairness and accuracy, not loyalty to any politician. Are James Fallows, Rachel Maddow, Jay Rosen, and Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor — all of whom have lamented evidence of Times bias against Hlllary Clinton — also “loyalists”? I don’t think so.

In my 2008 columns on the Democratic presidential primary for Salon and The New York Observer, Hillary Clinton suffered much tougher treatment than Barack Obama. It isn’t hard to look them up. I also assigned tough stories about her campaign, notably a major exposé of Mark Penn’s anti-union consulting. None of that was the work of a “Clinton loyalist.” Now I edit The National Memo, and Hillary Clinton has received no special dispensation here, either.

As for the question of bias in today’s Times, I sent Grove an email listing specific examples that he naturally ignored:

When Gene Lyons and I wrote The Hunting of the President in 2000, we showed how Times reporting on Whitewater had been slanted and woefully inaccurate from the beginning. Our viewpoint about that “scandal” was thoroughly vindicated. But unlike some other prominent journalists who were once obsessed with Whitewater, the Times editors never acknowledged its central role in that fiasco.

Over the years since, the paper’s coverage of the Clintons has veered back and forth, sometimes wildly — and particularly whenever Hillary Clinton is or appears to be a presidential candidate. Anybody looking for a Times bias can cite several glaring examples: the inaccurate front-page story about the Clinton Foundation’s supposedly shaky financing; the first inaccurate story about foundation donor Frank Giustra and Kazakhstan; the second highly misleading story about Giustra, Kazakhstan, and Uranium One; the peculiar “deal” that the paper did with Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer; and the series of stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails, based on leaks from the Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi — which culminated in the embarrassingly wrong “criminal referral” story.

Reviewing the Times’ role in promoting the Whitewater “scandal,” Grove is more misleading than revealing — and prefers assertions to basic facts. On the Pillsbury reports that exonerated the Clintons, for instance, he links to a tendentious article by Jeff Gerth and Stephen Engelberg claiming that James McDougal, the Clintons’ crooked and deranged Whitewater partner, somehow “protected” them from a financial loss. Actually, McDougal swindled the Clintons and secretly disposed of Whitewater assets for his own benefit.

Indeed, Times editors and reporters repeatedly sought to minimize the exculpatory findings of the Pillsbury report. They also failed to correct the false suggestion at the heart of Gerth’s original “exposé” — namely that Bill Clinton’s banking appointees somehow protected McDougal and his bankrupt Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, when in truth Clinton’s state government did everything in its power to shut him down.

In an email to Grove, Gene Lyons pointed to this crucial problem, noting “the fact, which I think has NEVER been reported by the NYT, that [Arkansas] regulators removed McDougal from his own [Madison Guaranty] S & L and urged the Feds to shut it down long before they did.”

On the upside, I was amused by Gerth’s pompous assertion that his Whitewater reporting has withstood “the test of time.” (Equally comical is a quote from disgraced former Times editor Howell Raines praising Gerth as “one of the best investigative reporters ever.” Now there’s a reliable source!)

The test of time? A conservative estimate of the amount of taxpayer treasure wasted on “investigating” Whitewater – a money-losing venture that ended years before Bill Clinton ran for president – is around $100 million. Which doesn’t include the huge opportunity costs for the country, Congress, and the president, as well as the damage inflicted on many innocent people in Arkansas and elsewhere.

That enormous waste of time and money spent probing a defunct real estate deal is Gerth’s principal legacy to American journalism.

Interested readers can find a thorough accounting of media errors in covering Whitewater – and the troubling way that Republican lawyers and businessmen used both Gerth and the Times – in The Hunting of Hillary. It’s a funny story, if you appreciate dark humor. And it’s still available, free.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, Featured Post, September 2, 2015

September 4, 2015 Posted by | Bill and Hillary Clinton, Clinton Emails, Clinton Foundation | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Awful Than Anyone Realized”: Fiorina Dead Wrong About Clinton Foundation — But It’s Worse Than That

Carly Fiorina is still masquerading as a Republican candidate for president – although her poll numbers remain dismal – so perhaps we must pay attention to her. The longer she sticks around, however, the more she demonstrates that she is even more awful than anyone realized.

Which is, for the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and busted Senate candidate, a kind of achievement.

Attempting to reintroduce herself to America as the anti-Hillary, Fiorina has repeatedly attacked the work of the Clinton Foundation, repeating lies she reads in right-wing media about its budget and expenditures. When Fox News Channel interviewed her on June 10, she complained, “We are finding so little of the charitable donations [collected by the Clinton Foundation] go to charitable work.” Based on her interpretation of the foundation’s IRS 990 forms, she estimated that only 6 percent of its funds have gone toward charitable purposes.

Uttered by someone who claims to be a brilliant executive — which presumably includes the capacity to read and comprehend financial documents — that was an embarrassingly stupid remark. Very little knowledge or expertise is required to figure out that the Clinton Foundation is an operating entity, or really a public charity, whose salaries, travel expenses, and other costs reflect actual work on the ground all over the world.

Now the nonpartisan Factcheck.org has bluntly corrected Fiorina’s nonsensical accusation in a long, painstaking refutation of what she and others (including a Fox News genius named Gerri Willis) have said about the Clinton Foundation’s spending.

“Fiorina is simply wrong,” according to the Factcheck report, which went on to assess the foundation’s budget in detail. The bottom line, according to the philanthropy analysts at CharityWatch, is that the Clinton Foundation spends 89 percent of donations for charitable purposes – well above the industry standard of 75 percent.

But that’s not even the worst part. Fiorina could have found out these facts very easily, because she is involved with groups that work with the Clinton Global Initiative and even got herself some free publicity in 2014 by appearing at a CGI event with former President Clinton.

So she mounted a damaging political assault on the same organization whose goodwill she had exploited for her own purposes, casually defaming thousands of foundation employees who perform important work — without even attempting to learn the truth from them first.

To me, this indicates personal character so low as to disqualify her for any elected office, let alone the presidency. She is untrustworthy as well as incompetent.

Anyone who has studied Fiorina’s career probably knows that already. Discussing her disdain for a minimum-wage increase at the CGI event, she blamed increasing economic inequality on “crony capitalism” – a problem highlighted, of course, by her own $40 million golden parachute, which enraged Hewlett-Packard stockholders, executives, and workers.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog; The National Memo, June 20, 2015

June 22, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Clinton Foundation, Clinton Global Inititiave | , , , , | 2 Comments

“When Journalists Cry Corruption, Make Them Prove It”: Clinton Foundation ‘Scandals’ Are Made Of Smoke And Innuendo

Here are a couple of things you may not know about recent topics in the news.

First, no Secretary of State prior to Hillary Clinton had ever used a government email address or preserved their messages for posterity. And why should they? The law requiring cabinet members to do so didn’t go into effect until after Clinton left office.

(Presumably to make one-stop shopping easier for Chinese and Russian hackers. But I digress.)

Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell deleted his emails. Every single one. Condoleezza Rice has said that she simply never used email, which may even be true.

Second, as of 2011 former president George W. Bush had earned at least $15 million giving speeches mainly to corporate and Republican groups. Politico has found more recent information hard to find. It’s private and confidential.

In 2011, Bush pocketed $100,000 to speak at a fundraiser for a homeless shelter in McKinney, Texas. The shelter’s director called the event a success, adding that the former president was his usual charming self. Bush’s standard practice is that reporters aren’t invited and recording devices are not allowed.

“Relative to the Clintons, though,” Politico notes “he’s attracted considerably less attention.” Maybe that’s because George W. Bush has no close relatives running for president. So that when he accepts $250,000 for speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, it’s not an issue. This event is widely known as the “Sheldon Adelson Primary,” after the billionaire casino magnate who openly auditions GOP hopefuls who oppose online gambling and support Israel.

Anyway, aren’t they all up for sale, the candidates? Clintons, Bushes, Walkers, Cruzes, Perrys, the lot.

Open for business, every single one.

Somehow, however, what would appear the least objectionable buck raking by a presidential candidate during the 2016 campaign cycle has become the most controversial. I refer, of course, to the Clinton Foundation, Hillary and Bill Clinton’s $2 billion charitable enterprise

The Clinton Foundation is credited, among other things, with providing cut-rate HIV drugs to patients throughout the Third World, hearing aids for deaf children in Botswana, and earthquake relief in Haiti; the foundation even fights elephant poaching in Africa — reportedly a passion of Chelsea and Hillary Clinton’s. (And of every other decent human being on Earth.)

Interestingly, the Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold recently produced a remarkably fair, snark-free account of the Clinton Foundation and its proprietor, a veritable force of nature. Despite being a longtime acquaintance of his, like thousands of Arkansans I almost can’t comprehend the life Bill Clinton has chosen. His life of endless banquets, celebrity galas, and international jetting around would make me crazy.

But then what have I done for the destitute and afflicted? Watched a lot of Red Sox games and read a thousand novels — that’s what.

Meanwhile, the thing to understand about the swirl of innuendo and accusation concerning this remarkable enterprise is that it’s yet another “Swift Boat”-style operation. Written by a career political operative named Peter Schweizer, the book Clinton Cash amounts to little more than a conspiracy theory touted by the same newspapers that promoted the Whitewater hoax and cheered on Kenneth Starr and his leak-o-matic prosecutors.

Aptly described by Michael Tomasky in the New York Review of Books as an “imitation of journalism,” Clinton Cash basically assembles circumstantial evidence about various potentates and high flyers in the Clintons’ orbit. Assuming venal motives, it then leaps to conclusions unsupported by fact. In most instances, the author hasn’t even interviewed his targets.

After making a promotional deal with Schweizer, The New York Times devoted 4,400 words to a jumbled narrative involving a Canadian mining executive who’d pledged half his income to the Clinton Foundation and the subsequent sale of a Wyoming uranium mine to Russian interests.

Way down at the bottom, however, the determined reader learned that Secretary of State Clinton played no role in the deal whatsoever. At least none that the Times could find. It’s pure supposition.

The newspaper then remained silent as Schweizer appeared on conservative talk shows depicting the foundation as a giant slush fund devoting only 10 percent of its budget to charity. In fact, according to the American Institute of Philanthropy, the real number is 89 percent — an A rating.

Look, any cynic can play at this. Check out your hometown society page. That doctor’s wife at the Heart Fund gala: Is it about charity, or about people back home in Turkey Scratch seeing her socializing with a Walmart heiress? How about the architect? Does he care about sick kids, or is he about getting the contract for the new hospital wing named for the heiress?

Does Bill Clinton do all this for humanity, or does he just need more attention and admiration than us “normal” people? Does Hillary want to be president for America’s sake, or for her own?

The correct answer is all of the above.

But when journalists cry corruption, make them prove it.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 10, 2015

June 10, 2015 Posted by | Bill and Hillary Clinton, Clinton Foundation, Journalism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Sounds Of Silence”: What Clinton’s Do Is ‘Scandalous,’ What Republicans Do Is… Ignored

Whenever a transgression against transparency is charged to the Clintons, whether real, alleged or invented, America’s political media rise up in sustained outrage. From the offices of the New York Times Washington bureau to the Manhattan studio of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, journalists bitterly protest Hillary Clinton’s erased emails and her family foundation’s fundraising methods. And they will surely snap and snark about her “scandals” from now until Election Day.

Which under present circumstances might be justified, since she happens to be running for president — except for one glaring problem. Very few in the press corps apply the same standards to any Republican politician.

Nobody will ever get to see the thousands of messages erased from the private email account used by former Secretary of State Colin Powell when he held that high office. He got rid of them and got away with it (as most likely did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who implausibly claimed not to have used email, when the State Department asked for hers).

Or at least such is the attitude of the press and punditry, who seem to believe that the dumping of Powell’s emails is somehow “different” from what Clinton did. And it is, of course – because she turned over more than 30,000 emails, while he turned over zero. But there is no sound of furious buzzing within the Beltway over the Powell emails; instead there is absolute silence.

Do readers and viewers want to know what Powell and Rice’s emails said about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, a topic of political and historic interest? Don’t they have a right to know? Well, Washington journalists who claim to represent the public interest don’t care.

And the double standard protecting Republicans extends well beyond the email “scandal.”

Consider the Clinton Foundation, whose critics complain that its fundraising has been opaque and suspect. The names of all of its donors have been posted on its website for years (except for a tiny 0.3 percent who gave to a related Canadian foundation and went unreported for arcane legal reasons).

To this day, however, George W. Bush’s foundation, which collected $500 million to build and endow his presidential library in Texas, has refused to disclose the name of every donor. The names that have been disclosed are difficult to find, unless you visit the library itself.

Like Bill Clinton, Bush began to raise money for his library from undisclosed donors while still in office, which raised ethical concerns. Bush told reporters that he might well raise money from foreign donors (which he did) and might not disclose any of their names (he disclosed some, years later). He hosted White House dinners and meetings around the country for potential library contributors, also unnamed.

Only after the London Sunday Times caught a lobbyist pal of Bush on videotape in July 2008 — soliciting $200,000 for the library from someone who claimed to represent a Central Asian dictator — did the Bush White House promise not to raise money from abroad while he was still president.

Yet this little scandal provoked no more than a few days of press coverage, a flurry of denials, and one or two tut-tutting editorials. And now that brother Jeb is running for president, nobody thinks to demand all the names of all the Bush library donors, so the press and public can gauge their potential influence on the candidate.

No, that kind of obsessive inspection is reserved for one political family. Their name is not Bush.

Those Clinton Foundation critics have gone so far as to claim that it isn’t a charity at all, despite top ratings by Guidestar and Charity Watch. A Wall Street Journal editorial snarled that any good done by the foundation is merely “incidental to its bigger role as a fund-raising network and a jobs program for Clinton political operatives.” Actually, the foundation has employed thousands of people, few of whom had any political ties, to bring vital services to the poor around the world.

But there is at least one tax-exempt entity that serves no charitable purpose, existing only to employ political aides and family members: the “Campaign for Liberty,” dubiously subsidized by campaign funds left over from Ron Paul’s political accounts.

Its employees, which include most adult members of the Paul family and most of Ron and Rand Paul’s top operatives, move between “charity” and campaign. It reimbursed Ron Paul’s expenses, even after taxpayers had already paid those same travel bills. Its current leadership is entangled in a festering scandal in Iowa, where prosecutors are investigating the alleged bribery of a local GOP official who shifted from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in 2012.

Which other presidential candidates are involved in such non-profit nastiness? How many used private email accounts and conveniently lost the archives? Voters will probably never find out – because nobody named Clinton is involved.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, The National Memo, May 26, 2015

May 27, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, Political Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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