A few days into the Clinton Cash scandal and apologists for Hillary and Bill are starting to retreat. After days of focusing on smearing author Peter Schweizer, the investigative reports of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and now Fox News have made it harder to dismiss the discussion about the connection between the massive donations to the Clintons’ foundation and speaking fees for the former president and influence peddling at the State Department. Instead, they are relying on more legalistic defenses and saying that Schweizer and other journalists who have followed up on his reporting can’t prove that Hillary Clinton performed favors for donors to her family charity or those who paid her husband half-million-dollar honorariums. So far, that’s true as there is no “smoking gun” memo in which the Clintons make clear promises of corrupt action in payment for the largesse that had been bestowed upon them. But what Democrats and all Americans should be asking about this argument is why some people get prosecuted for corruption on such circumstantial evidence while others are considered likely to be elected president. If circumstantial evidence less compelling than that contained in Clinton Cash can lead to an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez, why should we dismiss this story as just a political attack?
The Menendez analogy is inexact but nevertheless worth thinking about. The New Jersey senator faces jail for having done favors that benefited the business of his longtime political donor and friend. The donor was a doctor who made a fortune via Medicare and there’s little doubt that Menendez helped smooth his path to riches. But what’s lacking in the case is any hard evidence that showed that this was a corrupt transaction between the two rather than just constituent service or a favor to a friend. Unless the doctor informs on the senator (something the federal prosecutors are hoping to achieve by over-indicting the senator’s alleged partner in crime with enough charges to keep him in prison for hundreds of years), it’s hard to see how they will obtain a conviction. Even if everybody in New Jersey and Washington probably thinks this is a classic example of pay for play, there is a huge gap between what looks fishy and the sort of thing that can put a senator in prison.
The same can be said of all the allegations about the Clintons since it is unlikely either they or their donors will tell on each other absent the possibility of legal coercion.
The latest shoe to drop is the report about the way the Clintons became the “gatekeepers” for any company that wanted to do business in Haiti during the reconstruction effort after a devastating earthquake in 2010. By the same set of curious coincidences that led those who profited from the sale of 20 percent of America’s uranium reserves to Russia to become donors to the Clinton Global Initiative and sponsors of highly paid speeches by Bill Clinton, a different set of “philanthropists” wound up getting contracts to aid reconstruction and infrastructure work in Haiti also after donating fortunes to the ubiquitous Clinton Foundation. The former president, who was co-chair of a recovery commission, and the State Department facilitated such access. One of the most egregious and embarrassing examples came when a company with little mining experience was granted a gold mining permit. By another astonishing coincidence, Tony Rodham, the secretary of state’s brother, was soon named to its board.
In reply to this and the shocking revelations about a Russian state agency acquiring an American uranium mine from Clinton donors, friends of the putative 2016 Democratic presidential candidate can only shrug their shoulders and demand that critics “prove” to a legal certainty that the favors done their benefactors was part of corrupt deal. They’re right. There probably isn’t a piece of paper lying around in which Bill or Hillary say what it will cost in terms of charitable gifts or honorariums to help potential donors. And if it was ever written in an email, we know that email and the server on which it was recorded have since been erased.
All we have left is the circumstantial evidence that shows that some of the nice people who gave to the Clintons’ charity the cash needed to do some good, but also make the former first couple immensely wealthy, wound up having some of their business affairs advanced by government action. Others clearly hoped that this would be so. After all, the Clinton Global Initiative is just one of many worthy causes and others have longer pedigrees and more impressive records of achievement. People gave to the Clintons because of the good they could have done for themselves rather than to merely do good.
But just because a prosecutor isn’t likely to haul the Clintons into court over all these astonishing coincidences (or at least not so long as the Democrats control the Department of Justice), that doesn’t mean their behavior doesn’t smell to high heaven. Nor should it allow their court of apologists to obscure the real issues here with personal attacks and diversionary tactics. The court in which the Clintons deserve to be condemned is that of public opinion. It is there that Hillary’s friends must be, like Bob Menendez will soon be doing in a federal courtroom, reduced to saying that the journalists who have dug up their secrets can’t prove they’re guilty of corruption even if the circumstantial evidence points in that direction. That may be enough to avoid jail, but what we’ll find out in the coming year is whether it is enough to get elected president.