Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Clinton Scandals: Parsing Political Punditry

 Benghazi, the emails, and the Clinton Foundation are not the first manufactured scandals the right wing has attempted to hang on Bill and Hillary Clinton. These two have been in the cross-hairs of the right since Clinton was governor of Arkansas, and even then, Hillary was a primary target, even being criticized by some on the right and in the media during the Lewinsky scandal if you can believe that.
There are probably few readers old enough to instantly recognize the term, Whitewater, so a little background is necessary. In March 1992, the New York Times reported that Bill Clinton, then Arkansas governor, and Hillary, a lawyer with a Little Rock law firm, had invested and lost money in Whitewater Development Corporation, an outfit created by their friends James and Susan McDougal, who at the time were under investigation regarding the failure of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, which they owned. L. Jean Lewis, a low-level investigator for Resolution Trust Corporation, who was one of the investigators on the Madison Guaranty case, saw the article and began her own investigation, eventually submitting a criminal referral to the FBI naming Bill and Hillary Clinton as witnesses in the case. The U.S. Attorney in Arkansas and the FBI found no merit in the referral and killed it, but Lewis wouldn’t let go, and the Whitewater scandal took off, with congressional hearings, appointment of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, and the expenditure of around $75 million in taxpayers money, and nothing was found to substantiate Lewis’s belief (or that of the right wing lynch mobs) that the Clintons had knowledge of, or participated in any illegal activity. They had merely done what thousands had done during that period; invested in a real estate deal that tanked. From reading the articles in the Washington Post and New York Times during this expensive debacle, though, you wouldn’t know that.
Fast forward to the present moment, and it’s like déjà vu all over again. First, there was the unfortunate September 11, 2013 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility (often incorrectly identified in news report as an embassy or consulate) in Benghazi, Libya, in which ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The right saw an amazing opportunity to attack President Obama, and Republican representative Daryl Issa took the bit in his teeth and was off and running on a witch hunt that would have almost made Joe McCarthy proud. He was soon replaced by South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, who started off on an even keel, but quickly showed his wingnut leanings by shifting the attack to secretary of state Hillary Clinton. After months of an expensive public farce, ably abetted by Fox News as well as much of the mainstream media; with accusations flying like confetti at a Mardi Gras parade, it finally sputtered out. First, the first House hearing found that there was no evidence of a cover up, the White House didn’t order military forces to stand down, Clinton did not personally deny security enhancements for the facility at Benghazi, etc., etc., it sort of died an unheralded death.
Not to be undone, GOP teabaggers quickly seized upon Clinton’s use of a private email server, salivating at the prospect of criminal charges. Boy, were they disappointed when FBI director James Comey, while calling the use of the private server unwise and careless, said that there was nothing that would support an indictment. Another juicy scandal bites the dust.
Now, GOP legislators, along with the erstwhile leader of their party, have latched onto the Clinton Foundation, calling it a pay-for-play scheme, with Hillary Clinton selling access to her when she was secretary of state through donations to the foundation founded by Bill Clinton after he ended his second term as president.
This one will only heat up as Election Day approaches, and to understand it—I mean, truly understand it—you’ll need to read everything that appears in the media carefully. You’ll have to parse the political punditry with as much care as you’d scan a contract before signing, because the details are often in the fine print, slightly modified to fit a political agenda, or just plain omitted. I’ll give just one example, so you know what I’m talking about.
My examples come from the August 23, 2016 issue of The Wall Street Journal, a right-leaning newspaper that is unsure of its support for Donald Trump, but definitely doesn’t like Hillary Clinton. On the front page (jumped to A-4) is an article by Rebecca Ballhaus, ‘Emails Seek Clinton Access.’ On page A-9 is an opinion piece by William McGurn (who I assume is employed by WSJ because of his email), entitled, ‘Hillary and Bill Clinton, Inc.’. Both pieces are about the same subject, and reference some of the same events, but in decidedly different ways.
In Ms. Ballhaus’ article there’s the following sentence:  “The new emails show that while Mr. Band sought to pass along the wishes of donors, Ms. Abedin deferred to official channels.” Mr. Band is Doug Band of the Clinton Foundation, and Ms. Abedin is Huma Abedin, an advisor to Hillary Clinton. The donor being referred to is the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Prince Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, who has donated a significant sum to the Clinton Foundation to fund education programs in Bahrain.  In McGurn’s editorial he has this to say, “Ms. Abedin responded that the prince had sought a meeting through ‘normal’ channels but had been shot down. Less than 48 hours after Mr. Band had asked her, Ms. Abedin responded that “we have reached out through official channels.” The meeting was on. I’m not going to go on record saying that Mr. McGurn played fast and loose with the truth, but here’s what the front page article had to say about that, ‘the crown prince had sought a meeting with Mrs. Clinton the previous week ‘thru normal channels” and that the secretary of state had said she ‘doesn’t want to commit to anything for Thurs or Fri until she knows how she will feel.” Read these carefully, and you’ll see that they convey completely different meanings. But, it gets even better.
Here’s another excerpt from McGurn’s editorial. It isn’t the only favor Mr. Band requested. A month earlier he had emailed Ms. Abedin to ask for her help in getting an English soccer player a visa to the U.S. The player was supposed to come to Las Vegas for a team celebration, but he needed a special interview with the visa section of the American Embassy in London due to a ‘criminal charge’ against him. Because of this, the office of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif) had refused to intervene. Mr. Band’s email made clear the request was on behalf of Casey Wasserman, a sports and entertainment exec who had contributed between $5 million and $10 million to the Clinton Foundation via the Wasserman Foundation. McGurn ends this anecdote here, and goes on in his editorial to slam the Clintons for what he calls a pay-for-play operation that’s far worse than anything Donald Trump has ever done (yes, he managed to sneak Trump’s name in). Here, though, is what the Ballhaus article had to say about this same issue: In a separate email exchange, Mr. Band sought Ms. Abedin’s help in obtaining a visa for a member of a U.K. soccer league at the request of Case Wasserman, president of the Wasserman Foundation, which donated between $5 million and $10 million to the Clinton Foundation. “I doubt we can do anything, but maybe we can help with an interview,” Ms. Abedin wrote. “I’ll ask.” She wrote again: “I got this now, makes me nervous to get involved but I’ll ask.” Mr. Band responded: “Then don’t.” A spokesman for Mr. Wasserman said the forwarded email request never resulted in a visa.
See my point? Cherry-picked facts, omitted details, make all the difference in how you interpret an article or editorial, and how many people are as nerdy as me that they’ll compare an editorial with an article on the same subject to spot these kinds of discrepancies? But, if you don’t, you’ll be as misinformed as regular Fox News viewers. This, folks, is how scandals are created.

On a closing note, I’d like to go back to Whitewater. A minor figure in that ‘scandal’, L. Jean Lewis was about as anti-Clinton as could be. She ran an illegal T-shirt business out of her office, selling items that were vulgarly critical of Hillary, and she engaged in on-the-job activity that had her suspended and under internal investigation. But, she was the darling of the rabid right at the time, so special prosecutor Kenneth Starr (who had his own conflict of interest issues) protected her. What became of her, you ask? Shortly after George W. Bush was elected president, L. Jean Lewis, an individual with no previous supervisory experience, was appointed chief of staff for the DOD Inspector General’s Office, overseeing a staff of more than 1,000 people and a multi-million dollar budget. How’s that for pay-for-play?