Bernie Sanders never understood the epic quality of the Clinton
scandals. In his first debate, he famously dismissed the email
issue, it being beneath the dignity of a great revolutionary to
deal in things so tawdry and straightforward.
Sanders failed to understand that Clinton scandals are
sprawling, multi-layered, complex things. They defy time and
space. They grow and burrow.
The central problem with Hillary Clinton’s emails was not the
classified material. It wasn’t the headline-making charge by the
FBI director of her extreme carelessness in handling it.
That’s a serious offense, to be sure, and could very well have
been grounds for indictment. And it did damage her politically,
exposing her sense of above-the-law entitlement and — in her
dodges and prevarications, her parsing and evasions —
demonstrating her arm’s-length relationship with the truth.
But it was always something of a sideshow. The real question
wasn’t classification but: Why did she have a private server in
the first place? She obviously lied about the purpose. It wasn’t
convenience. It was concealment. What exactly was she hiding?
Was this merely the prudent paranoia of someone who habitually
walks the line of legality? After all, if she controls the
server, she controls the evidence, and can destroy it — as she
did 30,000 emails — at will.
But destroy what? Remember: She set up the system before even
taking office. It’s clear what she wanted to protect from
scrutiny: Clinton Foundation business.
The foundation is a massive family enterprise disguised as a
charity, an opaque and elaborate mechanism for sucking money
from the rich and the tyrannous to be channeled to Clinton Inc.
Its purpose is to maintain the Clintons’ lifestyle (offices,
travel, accommodations, etc.), secure profitable connections,
produce favorable publicity and reliably employ a vast entourage
of retainers, ready to serve today and at the coming Clinton
Now we learn how the whole machine operated. Two weeks ago,
emails began dribbling out showing foundation officials
contacting State Department counterparts to ask favors for
foundation “friends.” Say, a meeting with the State Department’s
“substance person” on Lebanon for one particularly generous
Big deal, said the Clinton defenders. Low-level stuff. No
involvement of the secretary herself. Until — drip, drip — the
next batch revealed foundation requests for face time with the
secretary herself. Such as one from the crown prince of Bahrain.
To be sure, Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, is an
important Persian Gulf ally. Its crown prince shouldn’t have to
go through a foundation — to which his government donated at
least $50,000 — to get to the secretary. The fact that he did is
Now, a further drip: The Associated Press found that more than
half the private interests who were granted phone or personal
contact with Secretary Clinton — 85 of 154 — were donors to the
foundation. Total contributions? As much as $156 million.
Current Clinton response? There was no quid pro quo.
What a long way we’ve come. This is the very last line of
defense. Yes, it’s obvious that access and influence were sold.
But no one has demonstrated definitively that the donors
received something tangible of value — a pipeline, a permit, a
waiver, a favorable regulatory ruling — in exchange.
It’s hard to believe the Clinton folks would be stupid enough to
commit something so blatant to writing. Nonetheless, there might
be an email allusion to some such conversation. With thousands
more emails to come, who knows what lies beneath.
On the face of it, it’s rather odd that a visible quid pro quo
is the bright line for malfeasance. Anything short of that — the
country is awash with political money that buys access — is
deemed acceptable. As Donald Trump says of his own donation-
giving days, “when I need something from them .?.?. I call them,
they are there for me.” This is considered routine and
It’s not until a Rolex shows up on your wrist that you get
indicted. Or you are found to have dangled a Senate appointment
for cash. Then, like Rod Blagojevich, you go to jail. (He got 14
Yet we are hardly bothered by the routine practice of presidents
rewarding big donors with cushy ambassadorships, appointments to
portentous boards and invitations to state dinners.
The bright line seems to be outright bribery. Anything short of
that is considered — not just for the Clintons, for everyone —
It’s a sorry standard. And right now it is Hillary Clinton’s