Friday 23 February 2018

The point where politics and money meet

Hillary Clinton: Currently ahead in the polls with just three weeks to go before the election
Hillary Clinton: Currently ahead in the polls with just three weeks to go before the election

Nancy Benac

You wouldn't think there was much left to learn about Hillary Clinton after her nearly four decades in the public arena. But Clinton's time as secretary of state, and as a private citizen after her failed 2008 presidential campaign, have generated new issues revolving around the intersection of money, politics, privilege and privacy.

Her use of a private email set-up as secretary of state has stirred up a hornet's nest over her loose handling of classified material, and fed the perception she tries to play by her own set of rules.

Her big haul of money from private speeches to Wall Street interests after she left the government stoked questions about whether she would really look out for ordinary Americans. Recent leaks about the content of those speeches have fed into talk about whether there are really two Clintons - one public, one private - as she pretty much acknowledged in communications that she intended to stay private.

And Clinton's links to her family's foundation while she was secretary of state have transported age-old questions about the influence of money into an all-new context. Never before has there been husband and wife presidencies, with all the potential conflicts that sort of power couple would bring. Some of the revelations that have emerged during the campaign include:

- Clinton's lucrative speeches to Wall Street interests behind closed doors in the run-up to her presidential campaign were a frequent topic of criticism by Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, who depicted Clinton as part of a system rigged to benefit the rich.

An AP analysis found that over a 15-year period, Clinton and her husband made at least $35m by giving 164 speeches to financial services, real estate and insurance companies after leaving the White House in 2001.

- Clinton's refusal to release the transcripts of those speeches was an ongoing issue during the campaign - until last week, when WikiLeaks released hacked campaign emails containing excerpts of her speeches. The excerpts suggest she took a more accommodating tone toward Wall Street in private than she did in public.

- Revelations in 2015 that Clinton used a private email account and server when she was secretary of state set off a number of alarms: what was she hiding? Was classified material compromised? Was she trying to avoid public records requirements?

Word that Clinton deleted tens of thousands of emails she said were unrelated to official business added to the intrigue.

A review by the State Department's internal watchdog concluded the practice violated several policies for the safekeeping and preservation of federal records. A year-long FBI investigation found no evidence that Clinton or her aides intended to break laws governing the handling of classified information, but FBI director James Comey concluded: "There is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."

The case was closed without any criminal charges.

- Throughout Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, there were questions about how to ensure that all the money flowing into the Clinton Foundation, particularly contributions from foreigners, didn't influence her dealings in government.

Several guidelines were put in place. Even so, an AP review of Clinton's daily schedules found that more than half the people with private interests outside of government, whom she met with while secretary of state, gave money - either personally or their companies or groups had given it - to the Clinton Foundation.

The AP's review did not include Clinton's many meetings with foreign diplomats or government employees.

- Clinton's political fortunes are inextricably tied to her husband's, and so are her finances. A Washington Post investigation in November 2015 totted up an unparalleled $3bn that the Clintons raised over four decades for their various political campaigns and the charitable foundation started after Bill Clinton left office. Nearly $2bn of that total went to the foundation.

- Other issues lurking in the background include: the impeachment of Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair; and Whitewater, the name of the Clintons' failed land deal in which neither was ultimately found to have done wrong.

Donald Trump has tried to make an issue of how Hillary handled the allegations of sexual improprieties levelled at her husband, claiming she bullied her husband's accusers.

Hillary Clinton did work behind the scenes to discredit his accusers; there is no evidence that she bullied them.

©Associated Press

Sunday Independent

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