OCCAM’S RAZOR

The Clintons Still Aren’t Corrupt

If you live in Hillary-Conspiracy-Land, she turned State into a giant shakedown operation. Back here on Planet Earth, it’s a tad different.

04.22.15 9:15 AM ET

So now I’m supposed to believe that Hillary Clinton turned the Department of State into a giant shakedown operation? According to Beltway conventional wisdom, it seems that I am compelled to believe exactly that. Because you know those Clintons.

And so we have a lot of credulous hand-waving about this new book. Conservative sharpen their knives, liberals sweat bullets that it’s all over. But very few people stop to think: Clinton has been in our faces for 20-plus years. Where is any evidence of real corruption? I don’t mean stuff you may not have liked or that kinda looked funny. I mean actual, Rhode-Island-style, steal-a-hot-stove corruption.

Don’t say Whitewater. She endured millions of dollars’ worth of investigations by a prosecutor (Ken Starr) who quite obviously wanted to nail her to the wall, and he came up with nothing. I still remember, by the way, the hopped-up political atmosphere after Bill Safire wrote a column calling her a “congenital liar” and predicted that she was going to be indicted any day now. It was not unlike the mood this week, as we anticipate The New York Times and The Washington Post’s reducing themselves into effectively collaborating with Fox News to trumpet Peter Schweizer’s book, Clinton Cash. But Safire was wrong, as he in fact so often was about so many things, and Starr never got her.

Cattle futures, billing records—it’s all the same. Thousands of people, people who hate her and want to see her thrown in jail, have been over and over and over these things. I know the fact that she walks freely among us suggests to many people that she and Bill are so brilliantly devious that they always knew exactly how to get away with it. But just maybe Occam’s Razor applies here, and she’s never done anything illegal.

And now she is supposed to have muscled through a trade deal with Colombia to thank a donor to her husband’s foundation. Right. Look at the chronology.

The man whose business interests the Colombia deal apparently advanced was named Frank Giustra, a Bill friend who has, as we shall see, come up before in the media in this connection. Giustra gave the Clinton Foundation $131 million—$31 million in 2006, [NOTE: this initially said 2005 but has been corrected] and another $100 million pledged that same year that he made good on over the next three years, up through 2008.

Now, 2008, you will recall, was when Hillary Clinton was running for president. It would stand to reason, would it not, that if Clinton was so intent on advancing Giustra’s Colombian business interests, she would have been for the trade deal at the exact moment Giustra finished paying her husband $131 million? But she was against it as a candidate, and implacably so! “I will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” she said on the stump in Pennsylvania that April.

That’s not exactly the position of someone shilling for a donor, but I suppose if you’re a committed enough Clintonologist, you can turn it all into a conspiracy—she was just opposing it then to throw the rest of us off the scent, but she’d support it later when it mattered. In fact, she was so intent on hiding her “real” position that she even parted ways with campaign manager Mark Penn because he was consulting for the Colombian government in behalf of the deal. 

So then she became Secretary of State. And, indeed, she did start supporting it—but after that became the administration’s position. Obama had also opposed the deal, which the Bush administration had begun negotiating with Colombia back in 2006, as a candidate. But the Obama administration used the Colombia deal as a test case for whether it could get a trade partner to agree to tougher labor protections (there was, and still is, violence against trade unionists in Colombia, although the number of killings has gone down since the pact) as part of gaining access to U.S. markets. The labor provisions got in there. People debate today how much good they’ve done, but they’re in there, and so Obama and Clinton changed their position and backed the deal.

Now, for Clinton to have known in 2008 that all this would play out to Frank Giustra’s benefit, she would have had to have known that Obama was going to beat John McCain and, rather more improbably than that, that Obama was going to appoint her to be his Secretary of State. But those wily Clintons know things like that, see.

I will grant you, she and Obama did not change their positions for reasons that Frank Capra would make a movie about. They changed them, I would imagine, because business and agricultural interests wanted the deal and had more power than the labor and human rights interests that opposed it. You can decry that, too, but it’s just politics.

Think Progress got a copy of Schweizer’s book, and on their description it actually sounds like it’s going to disappoint the heavy breathers. Aviva Shen writes: “Schweizer explains he cannot prove the allegations, leaving that up to investigative journalists and possibly law enforcement.” “Possibly” law enforcement. Nice touch.

While I’m at it with the irony quotes, I might as well drape some around that adjective “investigative” too. The Times, it seems, has decided to debase itself by following the breadcrumbs dropped by this former adviser to Sarah Palin because Schweizer devotes a chapter to Giustra and Kazakhstan, which the Times reported on back in 2008, and the Times plans to follow up on that.

I remember reading that Times story at the time and going, “Wow, that does look bad.” But then I also remember reading this Forbes (yes, Forbes!) debunking of the Times story, which was headlined “Clinton Commits No Foul in Kazakhstan Uranium Deal.” By the time I finished reading that piece (and please, click through and read it so that you are forearmed for the coming Times hit job), I was marveling to myself: Golly, that Times piece looked so awful at the time. But it turns out they just left out some facts, obscured some others, and without being technically inaccurate, managed to convey or imply that something skuzzy happened where it in fact hadn’t. How can a great newspaper do such a thing?

We’re about to find out again.