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“Already Waist-Deep In Stench”: The Most Corrupt Candidate Ever Is Donald Trump

Before his message was overshadowed by a scandal about his use of a white-supremacist image — a mistake that could happen to any candidate, really, so long as that candidate had inspired a massive following among neo-Nazis — Donald Trump was trying to make a point about Hillary Clinton’s corruption. She is the “most corrupt candidate ever,” he claims. Corruption is indeed a plausible line of attack against Clinton — or, at least, it would be, if the opposing candidate was anybody other than Donald Trump, who may actually be the most corrupt presidential candidate ever.

It should be conceded that the evidence against Clinton is fairly damning. After Bill Clinton left the presidency, the former First Couple intermingled career and personal interests in ways that, at minimum, exposed them to a high risk of contamination. The Clinton Foundation was not only a charitable endeavor but a vehicle for Bill Clinton to enjoy the comforts and exercise the quasi-official power of an active figure on the world stage. Donors to the foundation included many of the same businesses and individuals who paid the Clintons for private speeches, and who had an interest in cultivating close ties with a secretary of State and potential future president. Some of those figures had business interests that aligned with Russian strategic goals rather than American ones. The Clintons failed to promptly disclose all of their foundation donors and, on at least one occasion, appointed an apparently unqualified donor to a State Department board.

The evidence of Clinton corruption is circumstantial rather than direct. If they wanted to stay above reproach, they could have rigorously disclosed every dollar that passed through their personal and professional accounts, and made it plain that neither donating to their foundation nor hiring them for speeches would purchase any special treatment whatsoever — indeed, they bent over backward to demonstrate that they could not be bought. Instead, they profited from the ambiguity.

The case against Hillary Clinton is that her administration might be corrupted around the margins — in its minor appointments or pardons and in the relative ease in which some donors get their calls returned — but that the basic contours of her administration would be a continuation of the non-corrupt center-left program of the Obama administration. The case against Trump is qualitatively different. Trump is flamboyantly corrupt in ways that run to the very core of his identity and prospective governing choices.

This is all the more remarkable given that Trump’s complete lack of experience in public office ought to provide him with the opportunity, which most novice candidates have, for a clean-slate résumé. Instead, he is already waist-deep in stench. Trump has not merely intermingled campaigning with his business interests; the two are one and the same. His entire political career seems to be an outgrowth of his efforts to build his personal brand, which Trump has endlessly used the campaign as a platform to promote. He has devoted speeches to attacking the judge in the fraud suit against his “university,” instructed surrogates to do the same, and promised to relaunch the enterprise if elected. He celebrated the Brexit vote, which drove down the value of the pound, as helpful for driving visitors to his Scottish golf course. This sort of behavior is not an appearance of a conflict of interest but the definition of one.

Trump appears to be genuinely unaware, even at the conceptual level, that his business interests might complicate his ability to govern in the public interest. During the primary, when a debate moderator asked if he would put his holdings in a blind trust, Trump comically replied that he would, while defining a “blind trust” to mean his children would run his business for him, which is the opposite of a blind trust. Even if Trump wanted to distance himself from his business interests, the nature of his holdings would make it virtually impossible, as The Wall Street Journal explains today. A traditionally rich person could place their wealth in third-party hands without knowing what they were invested in; Trump’s business is his personal brand, making divestment impossible. “Trump’s empire would pose unprecedented conflicts of interest due to the size of its holdings, privately held nature of the family-run business, and concentration in one industry,” Richard Painter, the Bush administration’s ethics lawyer, tells the Journal.

Trump’s entire business career reeks, beginning with his early associations with organized crime and proceeding through a career of swindling. “No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks,” reports David Cay Johnston. Trump is not merely comfortable doing business with criminals and thugs — his habits of manipulating bankruptcy laws and swindling his partners have left him reliant upon, let us say, unconventional sources of investment, many of whom are the scum of the Earth. Franklin Foer lays out impressive circumstantial evidence that Trump may well be a puppet of Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump shares a web of financial ties that help explain their shared worldview. Whatever we might think of Clinton, we can be confident she is not controlled by the Kremlin. And the failures of disclosure or record-keeping in her operations pale beside Trump’s defiant refusal to disclose his tax returns.

It is altogether fair to condemn Clinton as a corrupt practitioner of the Washington cash-for-access culture. She and her husband are careless, susceptible to greed — normal politicians, in other words. Trump is the figure whose corruption stands out on a historic scale, and the notion that disdain for corruption would supply a rationale to elect him is nothing short of bizarre.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 5, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Organized Crime | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Triple Standards”: The Media Treatment Of The Clintons Never Improves

Let’s take a look at this Associated Press piece that is being prominently featured at the Fox News website. The headline writers certainly tried to make it appealing to those who are opposed to another Clinton presidency: Clinton opened State Department office to dozens of corporate donors, Dem fundraisers.

But, once you open the article and start reading, you encounter the following disclaimer (emphasis mine):

The woman who would become a 2016 presidential candidate met or spoke by phone with nearly 100 corporate executives and long-time Clinton political and charity donors during her four years at the State Department between 2009 and 2013, records show.

Those formally scheduled meetings involved heads of companies and organizations that pursued business or private interests with the Obama administration, including with the State Department while Clinton was in charge.

The AP found no evidence of legal or ethical conflicts in Clinton’s meetings in its examination of 1,294 pages from the calendars. Her sit-downs with business leaders were not unique among recent secretaries of state, who sometimes summoned corporate executives to aid in international affairs, documents show.

Based on the fact that the AP found nothing unusual or unique about her meetings and that they aren’t even willing to allege any ethical conflict, let alone any legal issues, there appears to be no reason to read the rest of this article at all.

Right?

Well, of course not.

There’s always a “but.”

But the difference with Clinton’s meetings was that she was a 2008 presidential contender who was widely expected to run again in 2016. Her availability to luminaries from politics, business and charity shows the extent to which her office became a sounding board for their interests. And her ties with so many familiar faces from those intersecting worlds were complicated by their lucrative financial largess and political support over the years — even during her State Department tenure — to her campaigns, her husband’s and to her family’s foundation.

So, wait a minute!

Are there any ethical issues or not?

You just said that there is “no evidence” of ethical issues. None.

And then you said that the totally routine and not-unique meetings you analyzed were “complicated” by “lucrative financial largesse” and “political support.”

Can I be a nudge here and simply ask that these reporters say what the mean and mean what they say?

How about this?

You think that a cabinet member who has political ambitions should be held to a higher and different standard from one who does not. So, for example, Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice can meet with the CEO of Pepsi Co. without it meriting a snarling headline but Hillary Clinton cannot.

But, if that’s the argument you want to make then you have uncovered an ethical conflict. Why not have the courage of your convictions and say so?

Or, maybe, you want to carve an even more exclusive exception to your normal standards and argue that what really distinguishes Hillary Clinton from other cabinet members and former secretaries of State is that her husband is a former president who runs a big foundation.

In this case, you’re creating a standard that only applies, and really only could apply, to Hillary Clinton. Even if she does something that doesn’t meet the ordinary criteria for creating an ethical conflict, she can still be hammered for doing something wrong because of unique circumstances that only pertain to her.

Let’s consider the competition. Even the National Review is appalled by Ben Carson’s connection to Mannatech, a medical-supplement maker that then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott charged “with orchestrating an unlawful marketing scheme that exaggerated their products’ health benefits.”

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee became a spokesman for a “Diabetes Solution Kit” that “the American Diabetes Association and the Canadian Diabetes Association caution consumers against” using. He also used his mailing list to promote cancer cures based on biblical passages.

And let’s not forget that Donald Trump created a fake university that was such a scam that he was sued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

These are some pretty low-level examples of simple hucksterism, almost too mundane to compare to the cross-pollinating between the Clintons’ political ambitions and their operation of the Global Initiative. To see something similarly complex and ambiguous enough to bear a resemblance to the latter, you probably need to look into Jeb Bush’s long history with the charter school and school standards and testing movements.

To be clear, just because one candidate is nakedly promoting fraud doesn’t mean that the press should avoid looking at another candidate’s complex financial connections. But it’s basically a smear to publish a piece like this one from the Associated Press, especially when you are unwilling to spell out your double standard and really justify the rationale behind it. And the headline writers take advantage, too, to get the clicks they’re after.

This story says that Hillary Clinton did nothing unusual, illegal, or even unethical, but that’s not the impression the story and the headline leaves, is it?

Haven’t we seen enough of this kind of media treatment of the Clintons over the years?

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 30, 3015

December 1, 2015 Posted by | Fox News, Hillary Clinton, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Expensive And Partisan Excursion Into Nowhere”: Benghazi! Why Trey Gowdy Is Still Hiding Blumenthal Transcript

The strange saga of the House Select Committee on Benghazi continues as its chair, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) fends off renewed questions about the committee’s purpose, as well as demands to release the sworn deposition of Sidney Blumenthal, taken behind closed doors on June 16.

In a July 7 CNN interview, Hillary Clinton – the actual target of Gowdy’s investigation – brushed off accusations about her use of a private email server and mocked his partisan probe. “This is being blown up with no basis in law or in fact,” she said. “That’s fine. I get it. This is being, in effect, used by the Republicans in the Congress, OK. But I want people to understand what the truth is. And the truth is everything I did was permitted and I went above and beyond what anybody could have expected in making sure that if the State Department [servers] didn’t capture something, I made a real effort to get it to them.”

Gowdy answered by reiterating previous claims that only his committee’s intrepid work had revealed Clinton’s email practices. “The fact of the matter is it took the Benghazi Committee to uncover Secretary Clinton’s use of personal email and a server to conduct official State Department business,” the chairman insisted after her interview aired. He went on to make a series of further accusations about the emails, insisting that the messages about Libya sent to her by Sidney Blumenthal were “solicited” by her and not, as she described them, “unsolicited.”

These disputes might be cleared up if Gowdy would release Blumenthal’s testimony, since he answered all the committee’s questions on these and other matters under oath.

In actuality, Blumenthal probably mentioned the indisputable fact that Clinton’s use of a private email server was revealed not by the Benghazi committee but by a Romanian hacker known as “Guccifer” — now serving time in prison for stealing messages from Blumenthal as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Dorothy Bush, the sister of former president George W. Bush. Many of those emails, obtained by Guccifer in a suspected Russian intelligence operation, were published on the Internet months before the Benghazi committee came into existence.

And Blumenthal surely noted, again under oath, that his emails to Clinton were “unsolicited,” despite Gowdy’s strained attempt to prove otherwise — as Gowdy undoubtedly knows. That is one of many reasons why he continues to suppress the former Clinton aide’s testimony. The excuse proffered by committee Republicans is that releasing closed testimony might discourage candor by future witnesses – an argument undercut by letters from Blumenthal attorney James Cole, urging the committee to release it.

No, it is now clear that Gowdy prefers to leak the Blumenthal testimony to smear both Clinton and the witness he claims to be protecting. For weeks, snippets of Blumenthal’s testimony and of his emails to and from Clinton have turned up in the media, to advance negative, highly distorted perceptions of both the former Secretary of State and her longtime friend.

These cowardly, bullying tactics are designed not only to embarrass Clinton and Blumenthal but to justify the committee’s increasingly expensive and partisan excursion into nowhere.

On July 7, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen too took a hard shot at Gowdy, under the headline “Placating The Right-Wing Clinton Haters.” He capably sums up the results of the committee’s inquisition into Blumenthal and Clinton:

The committee, the eighth to look into the Benghazi matter and determine if Clinton, as Secretary of State, was somehow complicit in the deaths of four colleagues — you know, those Clintons are capable of anything —asked Blumenthal 160 questions regarding his relationship with Clinton and fewer than 20 regarding Benghazi. (The Democratic minority kept count.)

The committee also asked Blumenthal more than 50 questions about his relationship with the Clinton Foundation and only four about security in Benghazi [the ostensible purpose of its existence]. Blumenthal was additionally asked more than 270 questions about his business dealings in Libya, which, considering that he has none, is commendable thoroughness run amok.

The committee in its wisdom came to appreciate that regarding Libya, Blumenthal not only had no business interests there, but also that he had never even been in the country. The emails concerning Libya that he had passed on to Clinton had come originally from Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s one-time top spy and someone who just might have had something interesting to say. It seemed reasonable to Blumenthal to relay them to Clinton and it seemed reasonable for her to relay them to her staff for vetting. In fact, it seems downright admirable, because the last thing you want is a government official who operates in a bubble. Given what the committee learned, its Republican majority then nimbly pivoted from insinuating a Blumenthal conflict of interest over Libya to accusing him of having nothing of interest to say about it. They got him there.

The Republicans, led by Gowdy, have learned little of significance, despite spending millions of taxpayer dollars. But they have keenly pursued political matters of interest to them, such as Blumenthal’s work for Correct The Record, a political committee that publicly defends Clinton and other Democrats, and Media Matters for America, the watchdog against right-wing misinformation wherever it appears. Today Gowdy also received a sharply worded letter from David Brock, the founder of both groups, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Maryland lieutenant governor who chairs Correct The Record’s board.

Noting that Gowdy and other Republican committee members asked at least 45 questions about Blumenthal’s “association with our organizations,” the letter from Brock and Townsend urged him to disgorge the testimony in full:

Mr. Chairman, we are entitled to know what questions you and other committee members asked about our organizations in Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition. Judging by the portions that have been leaked to favored people in the press and various right-wing blogs by Republican committee staff aides in direct violation of your committee’s own rules, presumably with your approval, aspersions have been cast upon our work. Your unethical leaking was a further abuse of Congressional power. The only way we can clear our good name is by knowing exactly what innuendoes and insinuations Republican members made about us behind the committee’s closed doors.

Indeed, Gowdy no longer seems to expect anyone to believe his denials that the leaks emanate from him and his staff. In his Washington Post media blog, Erik Wemple wrote that the Select Committee chair seemed to “wink” at a recent leak to Politico that sparked a brief controversy last week. And nobody else would have either the motive or the opportunity to orchestrate the leak campaign.

Meanwhile, the New York Times and other outlets that have published the leaks continue to slant their reporting against Blumenthal and Clinton. The easiest way to measure the Times bias is to note that Blumenthal’s attorney, former Deputy Attorney General James Cole, has written not one or two but three pungent letters to Gowdy, protesting the committee’s cheap-shot leakage and urging the release of his client’s testimony. For reasons best known to Michael S. Schmidt, the Times reporter covering the Benghazi committee, the paper has failed to mention those letters from Cole, let alone to quote them.

Times editors might well ask themselves why their Washington bureau is in cahoots with a congressional committee that epitomizes partisan abuse. Even Maureen Dowd, of all people, understood what was going on when she aptly renamed it “the House Select Committee To Keep Republicans in Power and Harass Hillary Clinton.”

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, Featured Post,  The National Memo, July 8, 2015

July 9, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hillary Clinton Has Only One Real Opponent”: You Guessed It, That Leaves The News Media

In a sane world, the 2016 presidential election campaign would begin about this time next year. However, the political infotainment wing of our esteemed national news media seems intent upon starting the contest ever earlier — whether voters like it or not. TV ratings and enhanced career opportunities depend upon it.

Unfortunately, Dan Merica, a CNN producer who followed Hillary Clinton to South Carolina, appears to have mislaid the script. Instead of shouting rude questions, Merica sought out an ordinary voter Clinton had chatted up in a bake shop. What had they talked about?

As it happened, they had discussed Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

A Baptist minister, Rev. Frederick Donnie Hunt had been sitting in a Columbia, South Carolina bakery reading his Bible when Clinton stopped by. “I was impressed and glad that she knew the Scripture that I was reading and studying…,” Hunt said. “It impressed me that someone running for president has that background. It is important to me that we have a president that has some belief.”

Rev. Hunt, who voted for Obama in 2008, now plans to support Clinton. “God bless you,” he told the candidate as she got up to leave.

Make of it what you will. But if you’re like me, you learned something interesting from the CNN story. Too many like it, however, and Merica’s career in Washington could be endangered.

According to a recent “political memo” by Jason Horowitz in The New York Times, Clinton’s Democratic rivals have no realistic chance. “That leaves the news media,” he opines, “as her only real opponent so far on the way to the Democratic presidential nomination.”

Well, it does have the virtue of honesty.

To be fair, Horowitz’s point is that the press clique has grown so hostile that “it makes all the political sense in the world for Mrs. Clinton to ignore them.”

He describes scenes in which reporters, bored and angered by Clinton’s strategy of traveling around and talking with nobodies like Rev. Hunt, have treated her rare press availabilities as virtual bear-baiting exercises, shouting questions of the when-did-you-stop-looting-your-foundation? kind, questions she “obfuscated…with ease,” according to Horowitz.

He provides no examples though. Readers have to take his word for it. In this carnival-like atmosphere, he adds, “it is not clear what Mrs. Clinton gains politically from playing the freak.”

Yowza!

Prompted by reader outrage, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan expressed chagrin at her newspaper’s “sometimes-fawning, sometimes-derisive tone in stories about Mrs. Clinton,” particularly that last “startling line.”

Times editors were characteristically dismissive, arguing readers had misunderstood the author’s meaning — as if it were a T.S. Eliot poem rather than a newspaper story. Believe me, I’ve been there. No matter how dead to rights you’ve got them, they’re The New York Times, and you’re not. It’s like arguing with a bishop.

A reader comment by Paul Goode of Richmond put everything in perspective: “It’s never a good strategy to patronize readers. And don’t make it worse by peddling self-interest as a profile in courage. The Horowitz piece was not only invidious; it was a not-so-veiled threat about what Ms. Clinton can expect if she doesn’t get in line.”

“Can expect”? How Clinton handles the never-ending barrage of gossip and contumely directed against her and Bill Clinton by the Washington media clique could decide the 2016 election. The Times itself, Bob Somerby notes, has all but openly declared war, and The Washington Post isn’t far behind.

Last Sunday the Times printed a 2,200-word opus by Deborah Sontag about Bill Clinton’s appearance at a fundraiser for Czech model Petra Němcová’s Happy Hearts Fund; the piece must have set a world record for fact-free insinuation.

A one-time Sports Illustrated cover girl, Němcová started her charity, which supports Third World kindergartens, after a near-death experience in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Clinton spoke at Němcová’s event in exchange for a $500,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation, which was to be spent on a joint project building schools in Haiti.

Since Němcová doubtless looks a lot better in a bathing suit than anybody in the Times’ Washington bureau, you can probably guess what the insinuations were. Sontag even found a Columbia professor who pronounced the event “distasteful,” without saying why.

Forgetting about Ronald Reagan’s $2 million speaking fees, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus (a Hillary Clinton fan, she claims) nevertheless uses the Yiddish word chazer to describe her. “It means ‘pig,’” she explains, “but has a specific connotation of piggishness and gluttony. This is a chronic affliction of the Clintons.”

This is what Clinton is up against. Her opponents could call for abolishing Social Security and appointing Jim Bob Duggar to the Supreme Court, and the character assassination would never end. Everybody knows the script: “Hillary’s what my sainted mother would have called a false article, insincere, untrustworthy, out for herself and nobody else. She thinks she’s better than you.”

Anyway, people always say they hate this stuff, but then they pass it on.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, News Media | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Polluted Political Games”: Our Entire Money-Based Political System Is Institutionalized Sleaze

I’ve admired the Clintons’ foundation for years for its fine work on AIDS and global poverty, and I’ve moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative. Yet with each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest from speaking fees of $500,000 for the former president, I have wondered: What were they thinking?

But the problem is not precisely the Clintons. It’s our entire disgraceful money-based political system. Look around:

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey accepted flights and playoff tickets from the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, who has business interests Christie can affect.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has received financial assistance from a billionaire, Norman Braman, and has channeled public money to Braman’s causes.

Jeb Bush likely has delayed his formal candidacy because then he would have to stop coordinating with his “super PAC” and raising money for it. He is breaching at least the spirit of the law.

When problems are this widespread, the problem is not crooked individuals but perverse incentives from a rotten structure.

“There is a systemic corruption here,” says Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money. “It’s kind of baked in.”

Most politicians are good people. Then they discover that money is the only fuel that makes the system work and sometimes step into the bog themselves.

Money isn’t a new problem, of course. John F. Kennedy was accused of using his father’s wealth to buy elections. In response, he joked that he had received the following telegram from his dad: “Don’t buy another vote. I won’t pay for a landslide!”

Yet Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s labor secretary and now chairman of the national governing board of Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, notes that inequality has hugely exacerbated the problem. Billionaires adopt presidential candidates as if they were prize racehorses. Yet for them, it’s only a hobby expense.

For example, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson donated $92 million to super PACs in the 2012 election cycle; as a share of their net worth, that was equivalent to $300 from the median American family. So a multibillionaire can influence a national election for the same sacrifice an average family bears in, say, a weekend driving getaway.

Money doesn’t always succeed, of course, and billionaires often end up wasting money on campaigns. According to The San Jose Mercury News, Meg Whitman spent $43 per vote in her failed campaign for governor of California in 2010, mostly from her own pocket. But Michael Bloomberg won his 2009 re-election campaign for mayor of New York City after, according to the New York Daily News, spending $185 of his own money per vote.

The real bargain is lobbying — and that’s why corporations spend 13 times as much lobbying as they do contributing to campaigns, by the calculations of Lee Drutman, author of a recent book on lobbying.

The health care industry hires about five times as many lobbyists as there are members of Congress. That’s a shrewd investment. Drug company lobbyists have prevented Medicare from getting bulk discounts, amounting to perhaps $50 billion a year in extra profits for the sector.

Likewise, lobbying has carved out the egregious carried interest tax loophole, allowing many financiers to pay vastly reduced tax rates. In that respect, money in politics both reflects inequality and amplifies it.

Lobbyists exert influence because they bring a potent combination of expertise and money to the game. They gain access, offer a well-informed take on obscure issues — and, for a member of Congress, you think twice before biting the hand that feeds you.

The Supreme Court is partly to blame for the present money game, for its misguided rulings that struck down limits in campaign spending by corporations and unions and the overall political donation cap for individuals.

Still, President Obama could take one step that would help: an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose all political contributions.

“President Obama could bring the dark money into the sunlight in time for the 2016 election,” notes Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. “It’s the single most tangible thing anyone could do to expose the dark money that is now polluting politics.”

I’ve covered corrupt regimes all over the world, and I find it ineffably sad to come home and behold institutionalized sleaze in the United States.

Reich told me that for meaningful change to arrive, “voters need to reach a point of revulsion.” Hey, folks, that time has come.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 28, 2015

May 31, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Donors, Campaign Financing, Lobbyists | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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