Sharks Are Circling Around Hillary

Dems are on the defensive again in response to allegations that a Clinton comrade was involved in questionable campaign funding.

Mark Peterson/Redux

The political world is on tenterhooks waiting for Hillary Clinton, and when there’s even a hint of chum in the water, the sharks come circling.

“Clinton’s Minyon In A Mess,” declared the Republican National Committee. “Another Scandal Emerges From Clinton Land.”

Minyon refers to Minyon Moore, a longtime Democratic activist with ties to the Clintons, who also has alleged ties to Washington businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who just ratted out Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray for allegedly asking him to fund an illegal shadow campaign to help elect Gray.

Is that enough “allegedly” to make your eyes glaze over?

Actually, it’s just convoluted enough to set off the first IED (improvised explosive device) on Clinton’s long and treacherous path to the Democratic presidential nomination. Rule One: Never let an attack go unanswered. American Bridge watchdog group, “Correct the Record,” fired back immediately at The Washington Post, which headlined its story, “Hillary Clinton Adviser Minyon Moore Sought Funds for Illegal Campaign, Court Papers Allege.”

The word “illegal” was strongly contested by Correct the Record’s Burns Strider, who called it “horse sh—t.” The Dewey Square Group, the public affairs firm where Moore works, issued a statement saying Moore “was entirely unaware of any inappropriate activities” and is cooperating with investigators. The public court papers in Thompson’s plea agreement say he told federal prosecutors that Moore asked him to underwrite pro-Clinton efforts in four states and Puerto Rico during the ’08 primaries for a total of $608,750.

The money was allegedly to fund “street teams” of grassroots people hired to put up signs and pass out literature—what campaigns call “field work.” There’s no mention in the court papers of illegality, and prosecutors said there was nothing that indicated Clinton was aware of Moore’s request. To get a better understanding of the dynamics behind these transactions, I spoke with a Democratic donor familiar with the nexus between money and politics.

“A lot of times in politics, staffers instruct and/or inform donors about ways they can be helpful beyond direct contributions,” he says, choosing his words carefully, recalling a time when donors who had maxed out on their federal limits so a candidate could give unlimited funds to state parties; money that could then be funneled back to the candidate—all done with a wink and a nod. “There are many legal and creative ways to help that go beyond direct contribution,” he says. What’s being reported about Moore’s alleged dealings with Thompson are not surprising, or unusual, or illegal.

“This is batting practice for Hillary and the people around her,” he says. The apparatus the Clintons have in place could be a bit rusty, so this dustup is a test run for bigger battles ahead. The Clintonites feel the Post over-wrote the story to suggest illegality by Moore, but say Strider’s use of an epithet is not part of a get-tough-on-the-press strategy, but more a reflection of his long friendship with Moore, and a sense she had been wronged.

Moore got her start in Chicago politics working with the Rev. Jesse Jackson on his presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988. She has held a number of key jobs inside the Democratic National Committee, and has been the go-to person for national Democrats for more than 20 years on organizing and messaging in the African-American community. Moore has Clinton’s ear and will have a major role in the 2016 campaign if Clinton runs as most of her intimates expect she will. Moore organized the first and only known 2016 briefing early last summer at Clinton’s home in Washington to bring her up to date on the political landscape.

There’s nothing in these court documents that could, or should, shake Clinton’s confidence in Moore, but that won’t stop the mudslinging. Moore’s name also came up in papers related to a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Herbalife, a California-based diet-shake company, that critics charge is an illegal pyramid scheme.

Moore met with African-American community leaders to warn them about Herbalife’s get-rich-quick business model. Latinos and African-Americans are a significant portion of the company’s marketing network. Dewey Square was hired to do the outreach to these communities by Global Strategies, another public affairs consulting firm.

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Their appetite whetted by these revelations about Moore, hungry operatives are likely to dig more into the activities of Clinton alums, who have settled nicely into the city’s public relations and lobbying infrastructure. Clinton’s people expect many more charges and innuendoes will arise, and this week’s rapid response shows the 2016 virtual war room is up and running.

“Political operatives and reporters grab at anything, that’s the environment we’re in,” says a Democratic activist. “Everybody wants 2016 to happen now. We’ve entered the silly season.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Correct the Record is a Media Matters group.