Commentary Magazine


Topic: corruption

Do the Clintons Have Enough Scapegoats for an Entire Presidential Campaign?

The latest series of Clinton corruption scandals have allowed voters to get a preview of the way Hillary would govern if she were elected president. Most of that has focused, rightly, on the pay-for-play issues and the way the Clintons profited from taking official actions that harmed American security interests. But now the Clintons have completed the picture by also revealing just how they would handle revelations of misdeeds while in office. In true Clintonian fashion, they’ll pass the buck. The Clintons remain allergic to anything resembling accountability.

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The latest series of Clinton corruption scandals have allowed voters to get a preview of the way Hillary would govern if she were elected president. Most of that has focused, rightly, on the pay-for-play issues and the way the Clintons profited from taking official actions that harmed American security interests. But now the Clintons have completed the picture by also revealing just how they would handle revelations of misdeeds while in office. In true Clintonian fashion, they’ll pass the buck. The Clintons remain allergic to anything resembling accountability.

We shouldn’t miss the significance of the Clintons’ latest effort to dodge the blame for the influence-peddling scandals. What the Clintons are telling us, essentially, is that they are incapable of ensuring the honesty and integrity of any organization over which they preside. And the next such organization would be, if they have their way, the United States government.

Last week, it was revealed that Bill Clinton facilitated deals for donors to the Clinton Foundation, as well as those who paid him directly in speaking fees, to give the Russians control of a huge chunk of American uranium deposits–and that those deals needed Hillary Clinton’s approval as secretary of state, which she provided. Additionally, in an attempt to hide foreign influence peddling, the Clinton Foundation filled out years of false tax returns. And yet, the Clintons’ response to this is the following, via Politico:

The acting chief executive of the Clinton Foundation addressed mistakes that the philanthropic organization has made in a blog post on Sunday, while also emphasizing that its policy regarding donor disclosure and foreign governments is “stronger than ever.”

Maura Pally, the organization’s CEO and senior vice president, women and youth programs, said that the foundation “will likely refile” tax forms for some years after a voluntary external review, which found that it had “mistakenly combined” government grants with other donations.

“So yes, we made mistakes, as many organizations of our size do, but we are acting quickly to remedy them, and have taken steps to ensure they don’t happen in the future,” Pally wrote. “We are committed to operating the Foundation responsibly and effectively to continue the life-changing work that this philanthropy is doing every day.”

Pally also addressed the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with Canadian businessman Frank Giustra, who set up an independent charity called the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership.

The fact that individual donors are not listed on the foundation’s site is not an effort to avoid transparency, she said, noting that Canadian law requires charities to get prior permission from each donor to disclose their identities.

Ah yes, mistakes were made. Also, blame Canada. Welcome to Hillary 2016: it’s not only someone else’s fault–whatever it is–but it also might be some other country’s fault.

There is, in fact, nothing shocking whatsoever in what Hillary’s trying to pull here. And that in itself should be shocking.

Hillary’s camp actually previewed this defense somewhat, by saying there was no proof that she personally signed off on the deals that needed her State Department’s approval. Sound familiar? It should: we heard it with regard to Libya as well. An American ambassador was killed in a terrorist attack after months of warnings of such attacks and a request for additional security, all made to Hillary’s State Department.

Yet after the deadly attack–in the aftermath of a war that was fought precisely how Hillary wanted to fight it–we were told that maybe those very important requests and briefings didn’t get all the way to Hillary. After all, she had to do some delegating: maybe the furniture questions, as we’ve seen, were the only ones to get all the way to the top, but the requests for security in a war zone could be handled by Frank in the mailroom. At least she didn’t try to blame Benghazi on Canada.

Hillary uses the complexity of bureaucracy to claim she didn’t know. And that’s why the Clinton Foundation scandals read like a Rube Goldberg rendering of political and financial corruption.

It’s bad enough for officials of the government to use the bureaucracy to insulate themselves from accountability, but they are merely availing themselves of the system’s perks. The Clinton Foundation, and the Clintons’ personal bank accounts, into which speech fees went, are the Clintons’ constructs. They arranged their family enterprise to mimic the way the federal government fleeces taxpayers while shielding those at the top from responsibility for their misdeeds.

The bet made by the Clintons was that reporters wouldn’t be sharp or dogged enough to connect all the dots. And they were almost right. Peter Schweizer, who wrote the forthcoming book Clinton Cash, has been the engine driving much of this. But reporters are building on what he’s uncovered, and putting their resources to good use. There are a lot of dots to connect, but once you connect them, you see a pretty disturbing picture.

Once reporters did connect those dots, Hillary had a fall-gal at the ready: an executive at the Clinton Foundation, as if it were some free-floating entity only loosely tied to the Clintons themselves, when in fact it is not only their family business but also served as a kind of super-PAC for Hillary while she was still at State at which her top aides served simultaneously while on her staff at the State Department.

That was a brilliant stroke, having someone not named Clinton at the foundation admit fault and apologize. But it’s getting a bit predictable, and if the scandals keep coming at this pace the Clintons are going to run out of scapegoats. The public, however, is likely to stop falling for it long before that.

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Hillary Clinton’s Bribery Scandal

Earlier this week I referred to Hillary Clinton’s “tangle of corruption.” It turns out I was being generous.

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Earlier this week I referred to Hillary Clinton’s “tangle of corruption.” It turns out I was being generous.

As the politically explosive story in the New York Times demonstrates, the depths of the Clintons’ corruption and avarice is stunning. The facts in the Times story are utterly damning and prima facie evidence of a conflict of interest. If foreign governments, including adversarial ones like Russia, paid the Clinton Foundation and/or Bill Clinton huge sums of money, they assured themselves favorable treatment. (Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was pursuing the purchase of a Uranium One, a uranium mining company.) What we’re talking about looks very much like bribery, as former Governor Mitt Romney told Hugh Hewitt.

It’s worth placing this revelation in context: The Clintons have known for years that Hillary would run for president–and yet they still undertook this transparently unethical and potentially politically catastrophic action. The same is true of Mrs. Clinton’s deletion of 30,000 emails, another breathtakingly inappropriate, and possibly illegal, act. (It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that some of those deleted emails included a discussion of Uranium One, the company the Russians assumed control over.)

All of this confirms what many of us have long believed: The Clintons are, in important respects, unethical and unscrupulous. They think the rules apply to other people but not them. They are self-indulgent, narcissistic, out of control. There don’t appear to be moral guardrails in place. They oversee a brutal political machine that destroys those who threaten their political viability.

The Clintons are so brazen in their transgressions and corruption that they are like figures from a Robert Penn Warren novel. But in this case, we’re dealing not with fiction but real life, not with make-believe characters but real people. One of them wants to win the presidency. But being engulfed by a bribery scandal won’t help her.

A recommendation to my Democratic friends: It’s time for Elizabeth Warren to start warming up in the bullpen.

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The ‘Clinton Cash’ Allegations Are a Test of the Democratic Party’s Health

The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

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The blockbuster New York Times story detailing the enrichment of Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation at the hands of Canadians, Ukrainians, and Russians with specific business before Hillary Clinton’s State Department is a political wake-up call for Democrats—but not the one you might think.

The issue isn’t how they will respond to this one story, which may or may not have legs, or the next batch of stories due to emerge from Peter Schweizer’s soon-to-be-released Clinton Cash. The issue is whether they are going to accede, as a party, to Mrs. Clinton walking into the nomination not only because there is an ethical cloud hovering over her from today’s stories and the destruction of her private email server but because they really can have no idea what is going to come out about her between now and November 2016. This is why a coronation process is bad news for any party—not only because candidates want to be president but because parties as a whole need to be able to change things up when things go wrong.

One thing about these stories is that they demonstrate the mainstream media have spent the Obama years resolutely not doing their jobs—which means that Hillary Clinton has not actually been vetted the way, say, every major Republican in the race has been. (Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been the subject of intense scrutiny from Florida media, Scott Walker from Wisconsin media, Chris Christie from New York-area media, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz from Texas media, Bobby Jindal by Louisiana media, and so on.) This story—the story of the Clinton Foundation overall— has been hiding in plain sight from 2010 onward. Thus, Democratic voters who like her and believe she is the best person for them are operating on the basis of incomplete information owing to a systematic lack of scrutiny by a media largely unwilling (consciously and unconsciously) to do the deep digging into Obama administration troubles—especially during the first term, when such digging might have served the interests of Republicans in 2012.

But here we are. These stories and more are unavoidable now, and the classic Clinton dodges (which I detail today in a New York Post column) aren’t going to work very well in response to them.

Which brings up the Democratic party, its voters, and its overall health. The condition of the party is a complex one. At the presidential level, the results of the past five elections suggest Democrats go into 2016 with a mild structural advantage; it would seem that, all things being equal, they can depend on a nationwide floor around 48 percent, while the GOP floor is probably a point or a point and half below that. Brilliant get-out-the-vote innovations from 2008 and 2012 will doubtless be added to as we head into the coming year.

On the other hand, the national condition of the Democratic Party outside the presidential realm is terrible. Since 2009, Democrats are down 60 seats in the House and 14 seats in the Senate. Republicans held 22 governor’s mansions in 2009; now they hold 31. Democrats have an astounding 910 fewer state legislators than they did when Barack Obama took office. The GOP has majorities in 67 of the 99 state legislative bodies in the United States, more than at any time since the 1920s.

So Democrats go into 2016 in good structural shape for a presidential bid but in horrendous overall shape as a political party when it comes to holding the levers of power everywhere else.

Hillary Clinton’s ability so far to clear the field—with the exception of a former governor of Maryland who ended office wildly unpopular in his own state—is a mark of the party’s sclerosis. Even when George H.W. Bush was running as Ronald Reagan’s successor in 1987-88, there were six other serious contenders, five of them figures of note in the party: Senate GOP leader and one-time vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole, the wildly popular Rep. Jack Kemp, former secretary of state Alexander Haig, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont, and Pat Robertson. If Bush had stumbled badly, or if scandal had surrounded him, Dole in particular was right there to pick up the slack.

That was the mark of a party that had been strengthened rather than weakened by its years in the White House.

The biggest polling news today—from a Quinnipiac survey completed before the blockbuster story—indicates that 61 percent of self-described independents find Hillary Clinton “untrustworthy.” That is a dangerous number for her and her party. If everything that has happened and is happening and will probably continue to happen to Hillary Clinton does not surface a challenger or two more threatening to her than Martin O’Malley, the party she will lead in 2016 will be more the wounded animal than the national force.

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Hillary Clinton’s Tangle of Corruption

Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

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Hillary Clinton is making her life more difficult than it needs to be.

I’m speaking in this instance of the donations by foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation. As Jonathan made note of yesterday, a New York Times story on the forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash, asserts that “foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return.”

When the secretary of state has a policy of pay-to-play, that is bad enough. It reinforces the impression that Mrs. Clinton is a tangle of corruption, dishonest and untrustworthy, and playing by rules that apply to her and her husband but not to others. That has happened time and again with the Clintons; it’s the pattern and habits of a lifetime. And there’s no indication it will change. The portrait of Mrs. Clinton is that of a hardened, brittle, unreflective, and self-justifying individual. Whatever problems she faces are always the result of others, often the “right-wing conspiracy” she has invented in her over-active imagination.

But that’s not the only complicating factor for Mrs. Clinton. The other is that she has badly damaged her ability to wage a culture war/”war on women” campaign against Republicans. Because whatever outlandish charge she makes against Republicans, they will sound positively enlightened compared to the repression of women and gays that occurs in nations (like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, et cetera) that have given millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. It looks for all the world as if those nations gave money to buy the silence of the Clintons–and their investment paid off.

One can only imagine the political firestorm if the tables were turned and nations that brutally oppress women and gays had funneled money to a foundation of a Republican running for president in order to gain favor while he served as America’s chief diplomat–not to mention the deletion of 30,000 emails on a secret (and inappropriate) server. The coverage would be intense and unremittingly negative.

On top of all that, the Schweizer book says that even as Hillary Clinton is portraying herself as a “champion for everyday Americans,” from 2001 to 2012 the Clintons’ income was (at least!) $136.5 million. Not bad after claiming she and her husband were “dead broke” after they left the White House. During Hillary’s years of public service, the Clintons have conducted or facilitated hundreds of large transactions” with foreign governments and individuals, Schweizer writes. “Some of these transactions have put millions in their own pockets.” (“Of the 13 [Bill] Clinton speeches that fetched $500,000 or more,” Schweizer writes, “only two occurred during the years his wife was not secretary of state.”)

Unlike her husband, Mrs. Clinton is not a naturally likable public figure. Her ethical transgressions make her less so. Which means Republicans are likely to face a person with thoroughly average political skills running with a considerable amount of ethical baggage but also a mountain of cash (estimates are that her campaign will raise up to $2.5 billion). Beating her in 2016 won’t be easy, but it’s certainly doable.

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Hillary Clinton and the Language Police

With each Hillary Clinton presidential campaign comes the requisite language policing from her supporters. Before the 2008 election, some argued it was sexist to call her “Hillary,” a claim that lost most of its force when it became clear that Clinton herself wanted to use her first name. And now we have the latest attempts to rule out certain words or phrases: Hillary’s poor social skills apparently must not be named, especially with words like “polarizing.” But her supporters are doing her no favors.

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With each Hillary Clinton presidential campaign comes the requisite language policing from her supporters. Before the 2008 election, some argued it was sexist to call her “Hillary,” a claim that lost most of its force when it became clear that Clinton herself wanted to use her first name. And now we have the latest attempts to rule out certain words or phrases: Hillary’s poor social skills apparently must not be named, especially with words like “polarizing.” But her supporters are doing her no favors.

In late March, a group calling itself Clinton’s “Super Volunteers” decided to let the media know they’d be watching coverage of Clinton and would push back on the use of any of the words they’ve decided are unfair:

So these words are now off the table: “polarizing,” “calculating,” “disingenuous,” “insincere,” “ambitious,” “inevitable,” “entitled,” “over-confident,” “secretive,” “will do anything to win,” “represents the past,” and “out of touch.”

The thinking here, of course, is that these kinds of words are attached to Clinton in a way that they wouldn’t be attached to male candidates — that people wouldn’t call Clinton “ambitious” if she weren’t a woman, that there is a double-standard for such traits.

Some are pretty funny: you can’t say “inevitable”? This is self-parody. What the members of the Clinton campaign’s Sea Org are actually proving is that accurately describing Clinton is itself a negative act because she has built a career on negativity and the ever-present air of corruption.

The Clintons are experienced practitioners of the politics of personal destruction. That nastiness can easily translate to being “polarizing.” But maybe, say some defenders, “polarizing” is unfair because everyone’s polarizing. That’s the case made in a New York Times Magazine piece. Here’s Mark Leibovich:

Initially, reporters said Clinton was “polarizing” because she was a transitional figure in the culture wars as they existed a quarter-century ago. She was a working woman and full political partner with (gasp) feminist tendencies. Among would-be first ladies in the early 1990s, these were exotic qualities. Today Hillary Clinton is a cautious and exceedingly diplomatic politician, perhaps to her detriment. (She is often criticized for being “calculating” and “robotic.”) If anything, her willingness to be deliberate, speak carefully and appeal to the political center was a big part of what sank her with liberal Democrats who opted for Barack Obama in 2008. If Clinton really were polarizing, wouldn’t the left be more excited about her? Wouldn’t people be roused from their “Clinton fatigue”?

Well, no. That’s not what it means to be polarizing in this context. Clinton isn’t polarizing because she’s liberal; she’s polarizing because she’s Nixonian. Richard Nixon was a political centrist, even liberal on some issues. According to Leibovich’s logic, that should make him less polarizing. I doubt many would agree.

With Hillary, a very common question surrounding each new revelation of her political activity is: How many laws did she break? This results in her having to rely on her most fanatical supporters, since defending rampant rule-breaking from someone who aspires to be put in charge of the American government is hard to do on the merits. It requires personally attacking critics and the press, which in turn only increases the polarization–again, with it originating from Hillary’s camp.

Leibovich adds:

When people say Clinton is polarizing, they are largely indicting her by association. She has been a fixture of our political climate for so long that the climate defines her. But the political climate has not been made, or polarized, by mysterious outside forces. It is us. You could argue that the act of showing up at CPAC and cheering a red-meat speech from the likes of Ted Cruz is an act of self-polarization, or at least an indication that common cause with Clinton probably was not much of a possibility to begin with.

And what does a red-meat speech from Ted Cruz include? Does it advocate for destroying evidence wanted by Congress? Breaking government rules to hide your taxpayer-funded activities from the people? Putting serious and sensitive government intelligence at risk by making it easier for the Chinese and the Russians to see our files than the relevant congressional committees? Running facets of a parallel government, with an entirely private server and a private spy shop feeding you intel? Using your family’s private philanthropic foundation as a super-PAC for foreign governments and then using the internal grant process to bleach the fingerprints off those checks?

I could go on, but I think the point is clear. Hillary lives by one standard, one set of rules, one book of laws, and wants everyone else to have to live by another. This aspect of her political personality is, at its core, aggressively contemptuous of the American people. And that’s pretty polarizing.

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The Menendez Indictment and the Future of the Pro-Israel, Hawkish Democrat

To adapt the old saying about luck: It sometimes seems as though if New Jersey residents had no corrupt politicians, we’d have no politicians at all. That perception of ever-present corruption can warp the expectations game. And it can also work against accused politicians: the astounding power of federal prosecutors is no doubt abused and sometimes the accused is innocent. This is what the Jewish supporters of Bob Menendez, who was indicted on corruption charges today, are struggling with as they face losing an increasingly rare pro-Israel liberal.

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To adapt the old saying about luck: It sometimes seems as though if New Jersey residents had no corrupt politicians, we’d have no politicians at all. That perception of ever-present corruption can warp the expectations game. And it can also work against accused politicians: the astounding power of federal prosecutors is no doubt abused and sometimes the accused is innocent. This is what the Jewish supporters of Bob Menendez, who was indicted on corruption charges today, are struggling with as they face losing an increasingly rare pro-Israel liberal.

There are several clouds hanging over this situation, complicating the issue. The first is the horrid behavior of federal prosecutors in recent years. There was the witch hunt over the Valerie Plame leak, in which prosecutors turned their attention to hounding, harassing, and threatening to jail and bankrupt Karl Rove and in the end jailing Scooter Libby (on perjury) while ignoring the actual leaker in the case, Richard Armitage.

More recently, we saw the appalling case of Ted Stevens, the long-serving Republican senator from Alaska. In 2008, just a few months before Election Day, federal prosecutors indicted him on false charges relying on allegations coaxed from a cooperating witness who was saving his own skin. He was convicted a week before the election, which he lost. Roll Call recounts what happened next:

After trial we learned that government prosecutors concealed compelling evidence from the defense. The cooperating witness did not come up with the “covering his ass” testimony until right before trial and his previous inconsistent statements were hidden from the defense. Likewise, the government concealed evidence that its star witness had suborned perjury from an underage prostitute with whom the star witness had an illegal sexual relationship. And the government concealed evidence that another witness — whom the government flew back to Alaska away from the Washington, D.C., trial after their mock cross-examination of him went poorly — had told the senator that the bills he received and promptly paid included all of the work that was done.

Stevens was finally cleared after the election, and died in a 2010 plane crash. It is this behavior that reminds us someone must be watching the watchers, that the abuses of a government prosecutor with an axe to grind won’t be hypothetical, they will be real and they will cost innocent people dearly. The case against Menendez will also probably hinge on getting the cooperation of his associate Salomon Melgen, who was also indicted and therefore will be pressured to make a deal and turn on Menendez, and the all-too-real corruption of federal prosecutors should loom in the public’s imagination before they jump to conclusions and declare Menendez guilty from the start.

Another cloud over this case is the timing. There is no evidence that the charges against Menendez, who has been the most strident critic of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran, were ginned up to silence him. And it’s quite likely that the statute of limitations on bringing charges is the deciding factor here. Just because he’s being prosecuted does not mean he’s being persecuted.

Nonetheless, losing a powerful Democrat who is both a dedicated friend of Israel and an opponent of capitulation on Iranian nukes right at the moment a deal appears to be taking shape leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of the Jewish community. President Obama has gone on a public campaign against Israel’s government and even downgraded the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war, and he has had success in his campaign to turn Israel into a partisan issue to drive a wedge between the remaining pro-Israel Democrats and the Jewish state.

All of which is why the Jewish community hasn’t been shy in voicing its support for Menendez. This support was the subject of a New York Times article this week:

By the end of 2014, Mr. Menendez had raised more than $200,000 for his legal fund — nearly a quarter of all its receipts — from political donors who have also given to pro-Israel political action committees, according to an examination of financial documents filed by the Robert Menendez Legal Expense Trust.

The Times gets at why the Israel issue is so important:

That line of thinking frustrates some Jewish and pro-Israel Democrats, who say Mr. Menendez has earned their gratitude but who will not go quite as far in alleging a conspiracy against him.

What’s more, Jewish leaders said, Mr. Menendez has won over the community on issues outside Iran’s nuclear program. He has been a staunchly liberal voice on matters of social policy; as the Senate’s only Hispanic Democrat, Mr. Menendez has been a champion of immigration reform, a popular measure in the Jewish community.

Certainly true. But if Menendez goes away, whoever replaces him in the Senate will hold the liberal line on immigration and social policy anyway. Much of the Jewish community adheres to a liberal policy agenda that is a dime a dozen in New Jersey. What bothers Jewish Democrats about all this is the suggestion–wholly and completely true–that Menendez’s approach to Israel and Iran policy sets him apart.

He is not the only pro-Israel Democrat, far from it. And he is not the only Democrat with concerns about Obama’s détente with Iran or the president’s relentless sniping at the Israelis. But as ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with his willingness to publicly dress down the president from the floor of the Senate, he represents a species of Democrat that is going quickly extinct.

A voting record only tells part of the story (much of the Obama presidency has been spent trying to stop Iran bills from coming to the floor in the first place). When Jewish Democrats see the adulation for Menendez in their community, especially one that crosses party lines, they know it’s not because of immigration, even if they’d like it to be.

It’s understandable for the Jewish community to show Menendez their support, especially before a trial even takes place. But it’s also important for Democrats to realize how their party will look to that same community if there’s no one to fill his shoes.

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Beyond ISIS, Kurdistan Faces Internal Crisis

More often than not, when Iraqi Kurdistan enters into U.S. discussion, it is simply in terms of its status as a U.S. ally and frontline force against the Islamic State. Of course, every so often, the human-rights abuses of its leadership will make international headlines, for example when the security forces run by President Masoud Barzani’s eldest son Masrour apparently decide to kill a young journalist for the crime of penning a poem condemning Barzani family nepotism. An appreciation for irony, it seems, is not a Barzani family trait.

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More often than not, when Iraqi Kurdistan enters into U.S. discussion, it is simply in terms of its status as a U.S. ally and frontline force against the Islamic State. Of course, every so often, the human-rights abuses of its leadership will make international headlines, for example when the security forces run by President Masoud Barzani’s eldest son Masrour apparently decide to kill a young journalist for the crime of penning a poem condemning Barzani family nepotism. An appreciation for irony, it seems, is not a Barzani family trait.

But with the Islamic State threat checked, at least for the moment, a larger problem now threatens Iraqi Kurdistan which, alongside Israel and the Gulf states, appears the last bastion of stability in the Middle East. And it is a problem of its own making: poor governance, corruption, and bureaucratic bloat. While high oil prices enabled regional governments to avoid reform, and short-term exigencies led Kurdistan’s allies to turn a blind eye toward its internal problems, sustained low oil prices have now contributed to a crisis which increasingly few inside or outside Kurdistan can or should ignore.

Kemal Chomani is among the most talented Kurdish journalists of his generation. Writing in the Kurdistan Tribune, Chomani notes that Iraqi Kurdistan is now $17 billion in debt:

The KRG has been undergoing severe financial crises for a year. Qubad [Talabani, son of the former president] forgot that KRG debts have reached 17 billion dollars. State employees are not getting their monthly salaries…. So surprisingly, and unashamedly, he said they have been able to manage paying employees’ wages by “begging”. He clearly degrades the dignity of our nation. He should tell us where they have begged for us. Is it their duty to beg or work? In the meantime, securing loans from the oil companies, their own companies and Turkey doesn’t mean they have been successful in resolving financial crises. As Mala Yasin, chief of Dealers of Kurdistan, has said, due to the financial crises more than 300,000 KRG workers have been made redundant. In the past three years, thousands of students have graduated from universities and yet you can hardly find one who might have got a job. Even though there’s no statistics to show the real unemployment rate, by having just a few conversations with the youth in the streets one can easily realize how high it is in the Kurdistan region.

Such indebtedness is especially curious given how, according to analysis by Kurdistan Tribune editor Harem Karem and Chomani, Kurdistan has reaped at least $100 billion in the last few years alone. Where this money has disappeared to is unclear, although some senior Kurdish officials have become fabulously wealthy.

In my last several trips to Iraqi Kurdistan, friends from across the Kurdish political spectrum have complained that salary payments are months in arrears and rumors abound that the Kurdistan Regional Government had late last year taken out a $500 million loan simply to make payroll. So what is the regional government’s response, even as oil prices plummet? According to Chomani, writing on his Facebook page, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Finance Ministry has announced the addition of 5,000 members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Talabani’s party) to the state payroll, even though they work in party and not state offices. This would be analogous to President Obama deciding to add Democratic party operatives continuing to work in offices belonging to the Chicago Democratic Party to the federal payroll, without actually requiring them to take federal jobs or abandon their party activist role.

Against the backdrop of Iraqi Kurdistan’s financial woes, investor confidence is taking a hit as corruption scandals which the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) would just assume ignore wind their way through foreign courts. The most recent case involving oil deals comes from Korea, where the Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC) operations in Kurdistan have now become the stuff of recrimination, blackmail by the KRG, and revelations in South Korea about bribery allegedly involving a $31.4 million “signing bonus” for the Kurdish oil minister Ashti Hawrami.

Certainly, Iraqi Kurdistan is not alone in facing an unprecedented budget crisis, or in being hampered by corruption, although unrestrained KRG corruption makes for a poor comparison with Dubai, other Gulf States, or even Morocco, where other investors might look. The unwillingness of the government to address the problems—there was a fistfight in parliament the other day when an opposition parliamentarian raised questions of rule of law regarding the president’s extra-constitutional extension of term—raises question about what can be done.

Iraqi Kurdistan is too important to write off, but the tendency of former U.S. officials and perhaps current diplomats as well simply to sing the region’s praises does more harm than good. If Kurdistan is to remain stable, and if its leaders truly seek to continue down the democratic path, then it is time for a no-nonsense approach to governance and a serious response to corruption. Too many countries with oil have assumed they are indispensable to the world’s voracious energy appetite, only to realize that corruption, organized crime, and insecurity can do an investment in. Kurdish officials may feel two out of three isn’t bad. They’d be wrong.

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Jobbers and Crash-Test Dummies Won’t Solve Hillary’s Problems

The Obama administration and its defenders have had the habit of spinning the unpopularity of failing and failed policies by diagnosing the president with a “communications problem.” Now Democrats, horrified by Hillary Clinton’s disastrous press conference and inability to spin away the corruption, secrecy, and national-security scandals related to her time as secretary of state are taking a similar line: she needs to get back in midseason form. Unfortunately for them, their solution isn’t a solution at all.

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The Obama administration and its defenders have had the habit of spinning the unpopularity of failing and failed policies by diagnosing the president with a “communications problem.” Now Democrats, horrified by Hillary Clinton’s disastrous press conference and inability to spin away the corruption, secrecy, and national-security scandals related to her time as secretary of state are taking a similar line: she needs to get back in midseason form. Unfortunately for them, their solution isn’t a solution at all.

Democrats should start with two realizations. The first is that Hillary was unable to offer a good explanation for her decision to jeopardize national security and avoid accountability with her email-server scheme because there isn’t one. What she did was wrong, and dangerous, and smacks of the corruption we’ve all come to associate with the Clintons. There is no excuse for what she did, which is why she’s been unable to offer one–and why she has had to torture language in particular Clintonian fashion to obfuscate the issue.

The second realization is that history suggests this is Hillary Clinton in midseason form. In 1997, upon accepting an ensemble cast award at the Screen Actors Guild awards for Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld stepped up the podium and said: “My name is Jerry Seinfeld and I am a bad actor.” Hillary and her ensemble cast of hacks and spin doctors should take the same approach. Her name is Hillary Clinton, and she is a bad politician. Terrible, in fact. She’s just not good at this. That doesn’t mean she can’t win–of course she can, and she would go into the general election with some structural advantages. But it won’t be on the strength of her political talents.

So Democrats should approach this subject with some practical sense of what kind of changes a talentless politician at the end of her career could possibly be expected to make. And they are, as Jonathan Tobin wrote yesterday, in something of a bind: they’re ready for Hillary and now they’re stuck with her too. The New York Times talked to Democrats and found a more modest rationale for her candidacy:

Congressional Democrats are counting on a strong Clinton campaign to help lift them back into the majority. Party leaders at all levels want her fund-raising help and demographic appeal. And from the top of the party to its grass roots, Mrs. Clinton’s pseudo-incumbency is papering over significant disadvantages: a weak bench, a long-term House minority and a white middle class defecting to the Republican Party faster than the Democrats’ hoped-for demographic future is expected to arrive.

Mrs. Clinton, many Democrats say, is simply too big to fail.

“There is no one else — she’s the whole plan,” said Sarah Kovner, a leading Democratic donor and fund-raiser in New York.

So if Democrats are stuck with Hillary (though in fairness, many are still plenty optimistic about having her as their nominee), they need to make the best of it. And while Democrats would like to believe her recent press conference and her insomnia-curing speeches are just signs of rust, the truth is she’s only slightly worse than she’s been in the past, which is quite dreadful. Can rust rust? If so, then perhaps they’re at least technically right.

The next question, then, is: How do they get her candidacy in better shape? Here it seems pretty clear that the coronation that bestows so many other advantages on Hillary does hold her back in this regard. She needs competition, Democrats agree. But they also agree that she needs–and here’s where this gets comical–“competition” that can’t beat her. She needs jobbers, sparring partners. Stella needs to beat some poor Democrat like a rented goalie to get her groove back.

Not all Democrats feel that way, of course. Some want a real debate over the issues. Over at the Washington Post, Greg Sargent is surely correct when he writes:

The continuing controversy over Hillary Clinton’s emails, culminating (for now) in yesterday’s contentious sparring with reporters, is likely to deepen the desire among Democratic activists and voters for a real Democratic presidential primary. That might force Clinton to spend months sharpening her handling of questions such as those swirling around her emails — not to mention her positions on key issues — under questioning from fellow Democrats.

The goal: A real debate pitched to an audience of Democratic voters, rather than an endless, grueling Hillary-versus-the-press death struggle.

But who are Democrats getting instead? Martin O’Malley. The former Maryland governor is not serious competition, and he’s not even trying to be. He’s even pulling punches on the email scandal. Sargent quotes another Post report explaining O’Malley’s approach thus:

His advisers say there’s no benefit to him criticizing Clinton at this point. She’s already on the defensive, they reason, and die-hard Democrats are likely to be turned off if O’Malley sounds too much like Clinton’s Republican critics.

Sargent is rightfully displeased with this. But what should anybody expect? After all, O’Malley reportedly asked the Clintons’ permission to run. Maybe he’s decided he has to clear all criticism of Hillary with Hillary herself as well. What will O’Malley say about the Clinton scandal? He’ll let you know as soon as Hillary’s staff gets back to him with a list of approved words and phrases.

But even if O’Malley weren’t asking the Clintons’ permission to borrow the car and extend his curfew just this once, he’s still not going to change the dynamics of the race. The concern with Hillary was never that she was going to run literally unopposed. It was that she was not going to have the kind of serious competition who could force her off-message or challenge her in a debate.

Elizabeth Warren could change the dynamics of the race. Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Bernie Sanders can’t. But Warren could also win, and the Clinton team doesn’t want real competition, it wants crash-test dummies. And so that’s what they’ll get.

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Hiding Hillary’s Emails in Plain Sight

It is an old saying that the best place to hide a book is in a library. And surely the best place to hide an embarrassing email (or thousands of them) is in a vast pile of emails.

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It is an old saying that the best place to hide a book is in a library. And surely the best place to hide an embarrassing email (or thousands of them) is in a vast pile of emails.

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, and almost no one else, noted yesterday a paragraph in Friday’s New York Times story on the ongoing Hillary Clinton email uproar:

In October, the State Department sent a letter to Mrs. Clinton and all former secretaries of state back to Madeleine K. Albright, seeking emails and other documents in their possession that related to their government work.

Finally, in December, dozens of boxes filled with 50,000 pages of printed emails from Mrs. Clinton’s personal account were delivered to the State Department. Those documents were then examined by department lawyers, who found roughly 900 pages pertaining to the Benghazi attacks.

Why, in an age when the push of a single button can produce an electronic copy of even the biggest file, would someone deliver “dozens of boxes” filled with paper copies that had been printed out one by one?

In order to hide a book in a library, that’s why.  At least I can imagine no legitimate reason to do so.

In electronic form, one can quickly search on such key words as “Benghazi” and “Christopher Stevens” to find the relevant documents. On paper they must be read, one by one, by soon bleary-eyed individuals, looking at their watches and wondering how early they can get away with leaving for lunch. After all, 50,000 pages of typing paper make a stack 16 feet 8 inches high.

It is interesting that while Clinton apologists Lanny Davis and James Carville are making fools of themselves trying to justify the unjustifiable, the mainstream media is, for once, not doing its oh-look-a-squirrel routine with this Democratic scandal. Indeed, it has dominated the political news for more than a week. That’s why James Carville accused the New York Times (!) of running with right-wing talking points.

The reason, I think, is that this story has, in spades, the aspect most beloved by journalists: it fits the narrative. The Clintons are perceived as self-absorbed, rules-are-for-little-people edge-skaters. As George Will said on Fox News Sunday, “The Clintons are the sort of people who could find a loophole in a stop sign.” This powerfully reinforces that image, especially with such blasts from the past as Carville and Davis reminding us of the Washington scandals of the 1990s.

Mrs. Clinton has apparently decided to hold a news conference on this, but to take no questions, a sure sign this episode has no simple, justifiable explanation. I doubt it will lay it to rest.

One wonders if more and more Democrats are now wondering to themselves, “If not Hillary, who?”

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Appearances and the Menendez Case

On Friday the Justice Department decided to leak to the press that an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges was imminent. While the ongoing investigation of the New Jersey Democrat, the most important critic of President Obama’s foreign policy, was no secret, the timing of the announcement raised more than a few eyebrows. Coming as it did the same week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress about Iran, an issue on which there has been heated disagreement between Menendez and the president, the willingness of the government to go public with its plans to seek to put the senator on trial gives the prosecution the air of a political vendetta. But would such an accusation, which would make the president appear more like a banana-republic dictator than the leader of the free world, be fair? Not entirely. The case involves the sort of cozy cronyism that makes both liberals and conservatives queasy. It also reflects the somewhat loose political morals of the Garden State. But in addition to that, the decision to try to nail Menendez may tell us more about the way out-of-control federal prosecutors act than it does about an Obama administration that likes to punish its enemies as much as any of its predecessors.

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On Friday the Justice Department decided to leak to the press that an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez on corruption charges was imminent. While the ongoing investigation of the New Jersey Democrat, the most important critic of President Obama’s foreign policy, was no secret, the timing of the announcement raised more than a few eyebrows. Coming as it did the same week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress about Iran, an issue on which there has been heated disagreement between Menendez and the president, the willingness of the government to go public with its plans to seek to put the senator on trial gives the prosecution the air of a political vendetta. But would such an accusation, which would make the president appear more like a banana-republic dictator than the leader of the free world, be fair? Not entirely. The case involves the sort of cozy cronyism that makes both liberals and conservatives queasy. It also reflects the somewhat loose political morals of the Garden State. But in addition to that, the decision to try to nail Menendez may tell us more about the way out-of-control federal prosecutors act than it does about an Obama administration that likes to punish its enemies as much as any of its predecessors.

Over the weekend the New York Sun discussed the rather suspicious nature of the timing of the plans to indict Menendez. The juxtaposition of the announcement about hauling the senator into court not long after Menendez publicly stood up and challenged the president at a Democratic retreat gives the affair the stench of payback.

But it should be noted that the investigation of Menendez’s dealings with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy contributor and longtime friend of the senator, preceded the current argument. Indeed, it started even the first clashes between the administration and Menendez over sanctions on Iran that Obama opposed (but now brags about having implemented). Even if the president is quite pleased with the senator’s current predicament, he probably didn’t initiate the investigation or direct it. Indeed, the decision on the part of prosecutors to seek an indictment now, just as Menendez’s disagreements with the president on Iran and Cuba have made headlines, may be a function of the expiration of the statute of limitations on his alleged crimes rather than a presidential order to take down a political enemy. Given that he is from New Jersey rather than some farm state, many will simply assume that as the senator from Tony Soprano’s home, he has to be guilty of corruption.

But as the Sun points out, the Justice Department has a less-than-stellar record when it comes to investigations of sitting politicians. That’s not just because of the example of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens who was hounded out of office by prosecutors who secured his conviction by misconduct that eventually led to the entire case being thrown out. But the senator had already been defeated for reelection and died in a plane crash before he was vindicated.

Even worse, the efforts by the government to obtain Menendez’s emails, a potential violation of Congress’s impunity on matters of speech and debate, are deeply troubling. So far the federal courts have opposed that fishing expedition as a breach of the Constitution’s protection of Congress against the executive.

Some will see that as a hazy point of law. But it is no hazier than the question of what divides normal constituency service on the part of a representative or senator from actual corruption. So long as we give Congress such enormous powers to intervene in economic matters, any action by anyone in the House or Senate is open to suspicion. Even if you don’t like the smell of Menendez’s relationship with Melgen, it is puzzling why this has earned the senator so much attention from the Justice Department while other dealings by his colleagues are no more or less suspicious.

As with so many other federal cases brought against prominent persons, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the only reason this affair may go to trial is the lust of U.S. attorneys for the scalps of celebrities. Once these legal monarchs have the bit between their teeth, they rarely let go and continue probing the lives of the objects of their fascination until they find something, anything, on which they can procure an indictment, no matter how fuzzy the law or unclear the facts about the alleged crime may be. And prosecutors use their ability to manipulate the press to aid their campaigns. All sorts of allegations have been leaked about Menendez in recent years though much of it, including some scurrilous charges about sexual misconduct, has shown to be false or least unproven. The fact that he has been an exemplary senator and an eloquent voice on foreign policy doesn’t place Menendez above the law. But neither should his prominence subject him to unreasonable prosecutions.

It’s hard to know what to think about the case against Menendez because our assumptions about New Jersey politics seem to override the presumption of innocence due any person in this situation. But when you throw in the obvious desire of the administration to discredit its most courageous foe on foreign policy, it’s difficult to view this dispassionately. Misconduct should be punished but so should prosecutorial overreach and the use of the Justice Department for political ends. Just as legislators should avoid the appearance of corruption, so, too, should prosecutors and their political bosses.

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Hillary’s Emails Raise Questions That Require Answers

In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

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In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

In addressing Clinton’s violation of the rules, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. Conspiracy theorists notwithstanding, the former first lady and secretary of state isn’t guilty of a host of possible crimes until she can prove herself innocent. But we needn’t raise the ghost of Vince Foster or Whitewater, let alone indict her on charges of sending men to their deaths in Benghazi or selling the country down the river to Persian Gulf oil states, to accept the fact that this highly suspicious.

As an expert in the field told the New York Times:

“It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario — short of nuclear winter — where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business,” said Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath who is a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration.

At the very least, the bizarre decision to forgo a government email while serving as secretary of state is a violation of the rules that apply to all those in high office. The regulations exist since all such emails are government records, much the same as correspondence and dispatches were in the era when snail mail was the only form of written communication. Government accounts are also far more secure than any personal account, a factor that Clinton was irresponsible to ignore in this era of cyber warfare. She was not the only secretary of state to use a personal account. But she’s the only to use it exclusively. As such, none of her emails were preserved during her time in office. It is only subsequent to her leaving her post to prepare for a presidential run that her staff began the process of sorting through her emails and deciding which of them should be sent to the government to be archived.

That the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee would behave in this manner is not all that surprising. The Clintons are legendary for their conspiratorial mindset and lack of transparency. But despite her spokesperson’s claim that she followed the letter and the spirit of the law, we are still left with the question of who got to decide which of her emails were private and which was government business and what were the criteria they used.

But as our Seth Mandel wrote last month when the scandal about foreign governments being solicited for donations by the former president while his wife ran U.S. foreign policy broke, transparency is not a minor concern when it comes to the Clintons. We don’t have to assume that she was personally participating in this highly corrupt practice to be curious about whether the same email account that she used to conduct business was also receiving communications about her husband’s success in shaking down governments for contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative. The mixing of her government business with her family’s private ambitions was bad enough even if one doesn’t take for granted, as we probably must, that all such donations were bribes aimed at winning the good will of a secretary of state, if not a future president. But now that we know that her emails were not automatically being preserved for the archive, it’s not unreasonable to worry that somewhere in this treasure trove of information are some nuggets that may not put her and her affable spouse in a flattering light, if not legal jeopardy.

If Clinton is smart, she will repress her instinctual reflex to stonewall and release her emails as Jeb Bush, one of the people who hope to oppose her in November 2016, has done. At the very least she should choose someone not associated with her family political machine to go through these communications and redact those that are truly personal. If not, she shouldn’t be surprised if this issue haunts her throughout the coming election year. More to the point, if Clinton doesn’t realize how damning this looks and the need to be above board when running for president, she will be disqualifying herself for the job.

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New Revelations Show IRS Is Judge, Jury, Executioner–And Grave Robber

The most important piece of information about the IRS’s targeting of conservative and pro-Israel groups is this: it is still going on. Politico reported yesterday that there are two categories of groups still being delayed and silenced by the IRS’s tax-exempt apparatchiks. The first category is Karl Rove (and his Crossroads organization). The second category is financially strapped mom-and-pop shops who have been driven into debt by the IRS’s corrupt practices in which critics of the Obama administration are deprived of some of their constitutional rights.

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The most important piece of information about the IRS’s targeting of conservative and pro-Israel groups is this: it is still going on. Politico reported yesterday that there are two categories of groups still being delayed and silenced by the IRS’s tax-exempt apparatchiks. The first category is Karl Rove (and his Crossroads organization). The second category is financially strapped mom-and-pop shops who have been driven into debt by the IRS’s corrupt practices in which critics of the Obama administration are deprived of some of their constitutional rights.

The story notes that this contradicts new IRS director John Koskinen’s claim that the agency “completed” its set of recommendations to get the corruption under control. As of this week, it’s still taking place. What this means in practice is that these groups, some of which applied several years ago, are still in limbo, unable to proceed. The point is to destroy the groups by bankrupting and suffocating them. Politico quotes a former IRS official using the agency’s term for this: “death by bureaucratic delay.”

Here’s how it plays out for the groups the government’s weaponized tax collectors set out to crush:

The years-long delay has gutted these groups’ membership, choked their ability to raise funds, forced them to reserve pots of money for possible back taxes and driven them into debt to pay legal bills.

“If you say the targeting issues have been resolved … how come we still haven’t received a determination one way or the other?” asked Rick Harbaugh, leader of the Albuquerque Tea Party, which has been waiting five years for its tax exemption. “We are still being targeted.”

Rove’s Crossroads group can afford being the target of a government campaign against those who would or should appear on the president’s enemies list (though obviously the IRS’s behavior is still morally repulsive). But what about all the others? Here’s one example:

At one point, for example, Unite in Action, a group that’s been on hold for more than 1,700 days, looked poised for growth. With members in various states and a mission to “prepare current and future generations to be guardians of our Constitutional Republic,” it quickly built a nationwide following, fundraising $600,000 to throw a multiday rally on conservative priorities in Washington, D.C., in 2010. Thousands attended.

IRS agents flagged its tax-exempt application, citing a blog post that said “fire Timothy Geithner,” then the Treasury secretary, and “demand Joe Biden apologize,” according to leaked IRS documents from 2011.

When the IRS asked Unite in Action for its list of donors, their occupations and addresses, the group’s finances took a nosedive.

“We told everybody that we will in no circumstances surrender that … [donor] information, but it still has dried up about 95 percent of the fundraising that we were able to do prior,” said current president Jay Devereaux, who joined the group in 2009. The IRS would later apologize for asking for groups’ donors, which it said was inappropriate.

Now Unite in Action is $16,000 in debt and operates on an annual budget of $8,000 to $10,000.

That case is an important one, because the IRS admitted afterwards that its own actions were inappropriate. There is no debate, in other words, about the injustice of the government’s actions here. But that didn’t stop the government from destroying a growing group and plunging it into debt because it dared criticize the administration of Dear Leader.

They lose donors and members “out of fear and frustration.” Some groups, Politico notes, “went belly-up while waiting.” That’s the point of the death-by-delay targeting. In other cases, the IRS demanded back taxes to try to pick the pockets of the activists one more time before the groups faded away. The IRS is both executioner and grave robber.

It’s also been engaged in a cover-up, and new revelations suggest that cover-up may be exactly as illegal as it looks: which is to say, very.

Politico reports on the congressional testimony of the IRS’s inspector general J. Russell George and his deputy, Timothy Camus. They revealed that the IRS actually withheld communication and evidence related to Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the abuse-of-power scheme:

In addition, TIGTA learned two weeks ago there were more than 400 additional back-up tapes that IRS did not disclose to the agency for examination when it opened its probe last summer and asked for all the relevant back-ups, said Deputy IG for Investigations Timothy Camus. They believe those could include more Lerner emails from 2011.

“There is potential criminal activity,” Camus said when pressed by Republicans.

And unsurprisingly, the Democrats in Congress are aiding in the cover-up by attacking the inspector general. These Democrats, including Virginia’s Gerry Connolly, want an investigation into the investigator. For whatever reason, the Democrats continue to act as though any serious investigation will be damaging to them.

And the Justice Department, led by outgoing attorney general Eric Holder, is lending its own support to the abuse of power. One of the reasons the IRS has given for the continued delay on some applications is that those applications are the subject of litigation and therefore the Justice Department has a say. But of course the Justice Department is not seriously investigating the administration or its political allies, so it’s a cover and an excuse to deny justice. It’s a scam.

The IRS, by the way, has basically proved that it shouldn’t be the free-speech gatekeeper not only because it’s unconstitutional but also because it’s simply incapable of respecting the rights of ordinary Americans. For example, the IRS, according to Politico, made the groups an offer: “immediate approval if they pledged to spend less than 40 percent of their time and resources on political campaigns. But several of the groups dismissed that option on principle, calling it unfair because it was a stricter standard than other 501(c)(4)s had to abide by.”

Precisely. The IRS told groups they could surrender a portion of their rights to which they are legally entitled and the IRS would allow them to retain the remaining portion of their free-speech rights. This is the behavior of an organized crime syndicate, not a governmental institution of a free country. It is extortionate, deeply immoral, and a permanent stain on the agency and the politicians who enabled it.

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Call Clinton Foundation Action What It Was: Corruption

So, it’s now become clear that the Clinton Foundation violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, which had been drawn up to avoid conflicts of interest when President Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to become his secretary of state. Because the Clinton Foundation often received donations from foreign states and Hillary Clinton didn’t want her tenure in Foggy Bottom to drain the Foundation of the funds upon which it came to rely, Obama administration lawyers hashed out an agreement in which foreign states could donate, but only if they had donated before and only if they did not provide additional money beyond what had been their previous practice.

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So, it’s now become clear that the Clinton Foundation violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, which had been drawn up to avoid conflicts of interest when President Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to become his secretary of state. Because the Clinton Foundation often received donations from foreign states and Hillary Clinton didn’t want her tenure in Foggy Bottom to drain the Foundation of the funds upon which it came to rely, Obama administration lawyers hashed out an agreement in which foreign states could donate, but only if they had donated before and only if they did not provide additional money beyond what had been their previous practice.

In 2010, however, the Algerian government, through its embassy in Washington D.C., allegedly gave the Clinton Foundation $500,000 in theory to support earthquake relief in Haiti. Now, the Haitian earthquake was devastating, and Algeria doesn’t have an embassy in Port-au-Prince and so on the surface, a donation is plausible.

But to believe that Algeria chose the Clinton Foundation randomly or because it was best positioned to work in Haiti beggars belief. After all, the Clinton Foundation does not appear to specialize in emergency relief. Its Haiti program page charts activity dating back only to 2010, the year of the Algerian donation. Most countries seeking to donate to Haitian earthquake relief might simply have answered the United Nations’ emergency call for assistance. There was also the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund stood up specifically for the purpose of Haiti earthquake relief and, with its mission completed, now folded.

Now, Algeria is a problematic regime at best. Through the Cold War, it was firmly in the Soviet camp. It has waged proxy war against Morocco, one of the most pro-Western, moderate Arab countries and continues to sponsor the totalitarian Polisario Front. To believe that its aims were humanitarian are belied by its persistent theft—according to Europe’s anti-fraud office—of humanitarian assistance donated by the European Union for the use of refugees in its remote Tindouf province. Rather, it seems that Algiers simply sought to influence the secretary of state with a back-channel donation. Now, let’s assume the Clinton Foundation passed money forward on earthquake relief, but the Foundation is famous for its high overhead, that is, support for the Clintons’ luxurious travel preferences, so a significant portion of the Algerian donation likely never made it to the Haitians in need. And let’s assume that Clinton was simply open to her Foundation taking money from everyone without enabling those donations to influence her decisions. The appearance of corruption is unavoidable.

Now, many states in the Middle East are woefully corrupt. Often, this corruption occurs because of a lack of legal framework defining what would ordinarily be a conflict of interest. There’s the problem of first sons, for example, with Middle Eastern leaders—Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, among others—each engaging in business with their sons acting as business agents. In the United States, we call it corruption, a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the law. It’s a type of business practice with which Algerians are both aware and comfortable. And in Hillary Clinton they seem to have believed they found a kindred spirit. Now, this doesn’t mean Clinton violated the law, but a competent secretary of state understands perception is often more important than reality. Her actions and those of her Foundation have at the very least undercut the ability of future American governments to make serious efforts to undercut corruption abroad, for Algerians and others will simply call American officials hypocritical given Clinton’s favorite charity and namesake accepting the cash. Hillary Clinton can plead that no corruption occurred—perhaps it depends what the meaning of “is” is—but the rest of the world simply won’t buy the spin. Judgment matters.

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Green Hypocrisy and the Hillary Scandals

One general rule of observing a Clinton scandal is that it’s always worse than it looks. And while the recent spate of stories exposing Hillary Clinton’s ethical deficiencies as secretary of state and prospective presidential candidate raised the specter of serial influence peddling or worse, last night the foreign-money story took a turn for the worse. The Washington Post reported that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign-government money while Hillary was secretary of state, a clear-cut violation of basic ethics, to say the very least. Which raises another question: What should liberals do now?

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One general rule of observing a Clinton scandal is that it’s always worse than it looks. And while the recent spate of stories exposing Hillary Clinton’s ethical deficiencies as secretary of state and prospective presidential candidate raised the specter of serial influence peddling or worse, last night the foreign-money story took a turn for the worse. The Washington Post reported that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign-government money while Hillary was secretary of state, a clear-cut violation of basic ethics, to say the very least. Which raises another question: What should liberals do now?

The planned coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s nominee without the hassle of a serious primary has certainly helped both the Democrats and Clinton in the obvious ways (party unity, fundraising, etc.). But the foreign-money scandal and the reaction to it show how this also represents an obstacle to both.

It’s an obstacle to Clinton because she has delayed officially declaring her candidacy since she has no true rival to push her to enter the race earlier. That means she’s spending this time not only raking in questionable cash from foreign governments but, as Politico’s Glenn Thrush noted last night, she doesn’t have the campaign communications shop up and running, or at least in midseason form. Thrush tweeted:

This may surprise some Clinton watchers who are used to the Clintons’ obsessive pushback PR machine, but it shouldn’t. Hillary’s acceptance of questionable cash is not done. Indeed, she reopened foreign donations after leaving the State Department with the intention, it appears, to turn off the spigot again when her campaign becomes official (if not after). That means any rapid-response team would have to be kept in the loop on all incoming donations, especially the shady ones. This is not easy to do if the Clintons also wanted to accept the donations in the utmost secrecy.

Hillary’s advantage, then, was (and is) also her disadvantage: keeping the foreign money coming in as late as possible.

This is an obstacle for Democrats in general because they have essentially already taken their oath of loyalty to Clinton. There is no Plan B. This is important, because the Clintons are notorious grudge holders. So when Democratic interest groups want criticism of the Clintons aired, it’s helpful for them to have opposing candidates through which to filter that criticism. The candidate is already on the Clintons’ bad side, and he or she is looking for ammunition anyway. And if Clinton is weak and ought to be challenged or defeated, the primaries are the time to do so. Without a candidate to launch plausible lines of attack against Clinton, the interest groups retreat and reveal the fact that most liberal interest groups are Democratic Party groups looking for an excuse to attack Republicans.

In other words, via Reuters, this is what happens:

Hillary Clinton’s connections to oil and gas interests has created a dilemma for some environmental groups, troubling activists for whom she would be the natural candidate to support for president.

So how are they dealing with this “dilemma”? With a self-imposed gag order, of course:

Uncharacteristically, many green groups normally quick to attack politicians linked to oil and gas companies shied away from commenting on the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with these donors.

The Environmental Defense Action Fund had no comment because it does not have anyone with knowledge of the subject, a spokesman said. Another business friendly green group, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund also declined, saying it would discuss the issues “when we have declared candidates.” The World Wildlife Fund had no comment.

The Reuters explanation for this towering monument to hypocrisy is priceless. I’d like to meet the person able to keep from laughing out loud when Reuters offers up this cartoon spin:

The reluctance to criticize Clinton reflects her mixed record on climate change. She has made two recent appearances at green-related events, addressing a League of Conservation Voters dinner in December, where she talked about the need to produce natural gas in a way that minimizes pollution. She also spoke at a green energy conference in September.

You see, she may be tied to the oil companies and taking donations from petrostates, but she attended a League of Conservation Voters dinner, so let’s call it a wash.

Of course it may be true that she has done some important things for climate change, like talk and speak and ramble and rant and maybe talk some more. At the very least, her emission of hot air raises awareness of the potentially harmful gas all around us.

But I don’t think a single person is fooled by the spinelessness of the green lobby. These pressure groups exist to elect Democrats and defeat Republicans. Nothing has changed about their political activism or their role or their raison d’être. Instead, they’re merely exposed as the partisan actors they are.

Even though that’s true, on some level it should engender some sympathy. Because those who act out against the Clintons are punished, and that isn’t good for anybody’s green agenda either. If the World Wildlife Fund gets sidelined, who will pretend to save the polar bears?

The lesson here is that there is a danger in going all-in on one candidate and being “Ready for Hillary” long before the campaign even begins. And “Stuck with Hillary” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

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How to React to Algeria’s Diversion of Humanitarian Aid?

Within both the United States and Europe, foreign aid has become a feel-good operation more successful at creating jobs for bureaucrats and consultants in Washington and Brussels than in achieving real success among its targets. This shouldn’t surprise since so often the metric of success used by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is money spent rather than results achieved. A decade ago, for example, it emerged that 95 percent of the money which the United States spent to “fight” malaria in Africa was actually being spent on consultants, and only five percent was making it to Africa itself to counter Africa’s most deadly disease. Lots of malaria experts bought new cars, but it didn’t do the public health in Africa much good.

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Within both the United States and Europe, foreign aid has become a feel-good operation more successful at creating jobs for bureaucrats and consultants in Washington and Brussels than in achieving real success among its targets. This shouldn’t surprise since so often the metric of success used by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is money spent rather than results achieved. A decade ago, for example, it emerged that 95 percent of the money which the United States spent to “fight” malaria in Africa was actually being spent on consultants, and only five percent was making it to Africa itself to counter Africa’s most deadly disease. Lots of malaria experts bought new cars, but it didn’t do the public health in Africa much good.

For both the foreign or humanitarian aid industries, refugees have become a particular cash cow. The Palestinians have received more per capita in aid than any other people, but have little to show for it, except perhaps the inflated bank accounts of UNRWA officials and the tremendous mansions built by Palestinian politicians, from both Fatah and Hamas. And as for those with their hands out on behalf of their people? Let’s just say that Palestinian spokesmen like Hanan Ashrawi (a speech for whom I once handled while working at Yale University) don’t often fly economy class or stay at the Hampton Inn. The main victims of the refugee industry become the Palestinians themselves, who are used as diplomatic distractions and pawns for others’ enrichment.

Alas, the Palestinians are not alone. I have written before about the Tindouf refugees camps over which the Polisario Front and its self-styled “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” rules with an iron fist. Tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees remain stranded in the desert with their voluntary return to Morocco prevented so that Algeria and the Polisario can profit off them. And almost a year ago, I wrote here how the Polisario Front and its Algerian backers were diverting and smuggling humanitarian aid.

Now it seems the European Union is catching on. Last month, Le Monde reported on a new report out of Brussels which confirms what has become obvious: Algeria has been actively colluding with the Polisario Front to divert international aid, using the remaining refugees as humanitarian pawns while enriching themselves. According to Le Monde, the diversion of humanitarian aid begins in the Algerian port of Oran, but assistance gets diverted along the almost 1,000-mile route into Tindouf. It’s really no different from how the North Koreans diverted food and fuel aid in the 1990s.

Alas, just as the State Department sought to bury talk of North Korean cheating, the Pentagon actually for a time thought it wiser to classify corruption rather than eliminate it, and the United Nations sought to bury investigation into its multi-billion-dollar oil-for-food corruption scheme, the European Commission is so far keeping its full report under wraps. In every case, the bureaucratic response is without fail to excuse corruption and protect the reputations of incompetent administrators even at the expense of helping those in need.

So what to do? The European Commission should release its full report. And, with proof of Algerian and Polisario embezzlement, it should also first demand restitution and reimbursement of the diverted funds—perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars over the years—from Algeria and, second, investigate and explain the failure of checks and balances that led the criminal scheme to continue for so long. Accountability should never be a dirty word. Foreign assistance should never be an entitlement, and it should never occur into perpetuity lest as with the cases of Tindouf, North Korea, and Gaza, it becomes an obstacle to conflict resolution rather than a solution to humanitarian crises.

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New York’s One Party State and Corruption

The arrest today of Sheldon Silver, the speaker of New York’s State Assembly, on federal corruption charges created what could well be described as an earthquake in New York politics. Silver has ruled over the state’s lower house for 20 years and wielded great power in Albany. But his fall from grace is about more than the tale of one crooked politician and the crumbling network of legal, political, and social service connections that he presided over. Accused grafters like Shelly Silver can be found throughout our nation’s political history and, indeed, that of any democratic country. Crooks like him are a dime a dozen. But what made him significant was not just his venality and fast and loose approach to ethics. He was dangerous because his decades of thievery were enabled by a political culture that treated such things as being of no consequence.

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The arrest today of Sheldon Silver, the speaker of New York’s State Assembly, on federal corruption charges created what could well be described as an earthquake in New York politics. Silver has ruled over the state’s lower house for 20 years and wielded great power in Albany. But his fall from grace is about more than the tale of one crooked politician and the crumbling network of legal, political, and social service connections that he presided over. Accused grafters like Shelly Silver can be found throughout our nation’s political history and, indeed, that of any democratic country. Crooks like him are a dime a dozen. But what made him significant was not just his venality and fast and loose approach to ethics. He was dangerous because his decades of thievery were enabled by a political culture that treated such things as being of no consequence.

That Silver is accused of raking in millions in bribes and kickbacks from those doing business with the state does not come as a great shock to those who have followed his career. His rise from an undistinguished lawyer and local political hack with close ties to Heshy Jacob—a prominent povertician on Manhattan’s Lower East Side—to a political giant brought him great wealth and far-reaching influence within the state’s business, legal, and political worlds. Moreover the sentencing last year of William Rapfogel, the husband of Silver’s chief of staff Judy Rapfogel, on charges relating to the looting of one of the city’s leading Jewish social welfare agencies made it impossible to avoid the possibility that the thread of corruption would eventually lead to the uncovering of even greater crimes by the speaker of the Assembly.

Silver’s shakedowns poured millions into the coffers of law firms with which he was associated but they were also ill concealed. How a part-time lawyer (members of the New York legislature work part time and, unlike members of Congress, may be active in the legal profession) that did not appear to work on any cases could become a wealthy partner in a law firm specializing in personal injury cases was a mystery that was always treated as one to which the answer was known to any politically aware person in New York City or Albany.

But somehow this open secret was never considered worth looking into by legal authorities. Neither crusading state attorney generals like Eliot Spitzer or Andrew Cuomo (both of whom used that office as a stepping stone to the governorship) or tough guy district attorneys ever managed to find the time or the resources to pursue Silver. Why would they when doing so when put them in opposition to a powerful man who could make their political lives miserable? In the go-along-to-get-along world of New York politics, picking a fight with Shelly was never a good business proposition. In the end, it took a federal prosecutor to unravel this tawdry case.

But instead of just cheering the determination of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, it is also an apt moment to think back on a political tempest that came and went with no political repercussions last year.

It should be recalled that Governor Cuomo belatedly responded to concerns about Albany’s tradition of thievery by creating a special panel known as the Moreland Commission to root out corruption. But as soon as it started to make some noises about actually doing just that—as opposed to merely talking about it as almost all past anti-corruption efforts had done—Cuomo disbanded it, as Bharara said, “to the great relief” of Silver. But a culture of tolerance for corruption—something that Silver used to his advantage for years—ensured that the governor suffered no political consequences for this outrageous act. Silver made deals with Albany Republicans who made no trouble for him. But in a one-party state like New York, the usual checks and balances of a democracy in which a credible opposition can make the party in power pay for its sins simply don’t exist.

That is why as troubling as the tale of Silver’s alleged misdeeds may be, unless accountability is brought into the picture it is a given that there will be more Shelly Silvers in New York’s future. A leviathan-like state government such as the one that operates in New York is awash in money and contracts that are an open invitation to looters and grafters. But until the state’s political culture becomes one where indifference to corruption can bring a new party and reform to power, criminals will continue to prosper at the taxpayers’ expense.

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The Problem of Electing Judges

Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will hold a hearing on whether the bans on candidates for judicial office in 30 states directly soliciting contributions violate the First Amendment. The New York Times this morning put the story on the front page and ran an editorial on the subject.

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Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will hold a hearing on whether the bans on candidates for judicial office in 30 states directly soliciting contributions violate the First Amendment. The New York Times this morning put the story on the front page and ran an editorial on the subject.

Judges are elected, in one way or another, in 39 of the 50 states. In some states all judges are elected, in others only some are elected and others appointed. Some are elected in partisan elections, some are appointed but then face a retention election. You can see the particulars here.

The reasoning behind the bans is that if a judge or a candidate for a judgeship personally asks for a contribution, especially from lawyers or companies that might have a case before him, that sets up a quid that might at some future date produce a quo.

This is not just theoretical. As the Times reports:

In the 1970s, two justices of the Florida Supreme Court resigned after evidence emerged that they had tried to fix cases for contributors. A third stepped down when a gambling junket paid for by a litigant came to light. A fourth left the court in connection with a scandal including draft opinions ghostwritten by lobbyists.

But banning direct solicitations simply puts the problem at one remove. Instead of the judge asking for a contribution, his campaign manager (or his wife)  asks for it. The quid and the potential quo are still there.

The problem is in electing judges, a practice unknown outside the United States. It dates to the 1830s with the flowering of “Jacksonian democracy.” Andrew Jackson was a fierce anti-aristocrat and thought that one of the ways to dilute the power of the elite was for all public officials to be elected, including judges. The thoroughly Jacksonian New York State constitution of 1846 required the election of almost all public officials, from town clerks and receivers of taxes to the head of the prison system.

But town clerks and receivers of taxes are, well, clerks. They have important and responsible jobs but they don’t make policy; they execute it and should be responsible to the executive, not the electorate. The same is true of judges. They can’t promise to do this or that or the other thing if elected, they can only promise to be fair and impartial and to follow the law.

Federal judges are nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and have life tenure. They can only be removed by impeachment. But in the whole history of the federal judiciary only eight judges have been impeached, convicted, and removed from office while another three resigned in the face of impeachment. That’s not a perfect record, to be sure, but it’s an impressive one, and far better than that of judges elected to office.

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Holder Does Something Right

It’s hard to believe, but Eric Holder’s Justice Department has actually done a good thing. On Friday, the attorney general barred state and local police from using federal law to seize property from citizens without a warrant or criminal charges. Under a program called Equitable Sharing, police could pull someone over for some minor infraction, and then, if they found, say, a large amount of cash, seize it and the vehicle without any evidence that the cash had been obtained illegally. The citizen would then have to prove his innocence to get it back.

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It’s hard to believe, but Eric Holder’s Justice Department has actually done a good thing. On Friday, the attorney general barred state and local police from using federal law to seize property from citizens without a warrant or criminal charges. Under a program called Equitable Sharing, police could pull someone over for some minor infraction, and then, if they found, say, a large amount of cash, seize it and the vehicle without any evidence that the cash had been obtained illegally. The citizen would then have to prove his innocence to get it back.

This was no small business. Since 2008 there have been more than 55,000 seizures under this program, worth $3 billion. The proceeds were usually split 80-20 between the local police and a federal agency.

The program originated in the early 1980s as a way of attacking the illegal drug trade, which is largely conducted in cash. After 9/11 it was ramped up to fight terrorism.

Abuses were sure to follow, and they did. After all, if a local police department can substantially increase its revenues by seizing property and making the owners fight (at their own expense) to get it back, and they can then use that revenue to increase expenditure, that’s a tremendous motivation not to be over-scrupulous.

As a general principle, government departments should be funded solely by legislative appropriations. Doing otherwise, as in this case, produces an open invitation to corruption, which will all too often be accepted. In other instances, such as funding wildlife and environmental agencies out of hunting license fees, policy is skewed in order to maximize income.

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In Turkey, Will Corruption Kill?

Turkey has never been a particularly clean country when it comes to economic transparency and rule of law. One of the reasons why mainstream voters chose Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2002 elections was widespread disgust with the corruption of the established parties. Turkish voters basically gambled on the devil they didn’t know instead of the devils they did.

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Turkey has never been a particularly clean country when it comes to economic transparency and rule of law. One of the reasons why mainstream voters chose Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2002 elections was widespread disgust with the corruption of the established parties. Turkish voters basically gambled on the devil they didn’t know instead of the devils they did.

In hindsight it is clear they made the wrong decision. When Erdoğan became prime minister, he immediately set out to hijack the Turkish financial system, reportedly building a large slush fund with the assistance of oil-rich Persian Gulf emirates like Qatar. Over the course of his premiership, Erdoğan also became fabulously wealthy. Erdoğan explained his sudden good fortune as the result of wedding gifts sent to his son by his many friends and admirers. Still, U.S. diplomats privately suggested that Erdoğan has siphoned money off into eight different Swiss bank accounts. It is impossible to know for sure in the absence of transparency, but Erdoğan may very well be the most corrupt leader in Turkey’s history, and that’s a distinction for which the competition has been fierce.

The fact that Erdoğan is effectively above the law has led him to double down on opponents and answer corruption charges with impunity. A year ago, after a dispute erupted between Erdoğan and exiled Islamic thinker Fethullah Gülen, the Gülenists in the security services apparently leaked recordings allegedly depicting corruption in Erdoğan’s household and among senior ministers and advisors, like former EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış. In the recordings, Erdoğan purportedly asks his son to dispose of $1 billion stashed in various family members’ homes. The next day, Turks say that the Erdoğans bought several luxury villas, paying with cash. Meanwhile, police had seized millions of dollars from the homes of Bağış and colleagues. Bağış defended himself by calling such gifts a Turkish tradition. And so they have become.

A parliamentary commission charged with investigating corruption and bribery charges against four Erdoğan ministers decided, however, not to send the ministers to a Supreme Court trial. This outcome surprised no one because Erdoğan’s party enjoys a parliamentary majority and maintains authoritarian control over his party and its affairs. What is surprising, however, is that the AKP went further; the parliamentary commission handling the graft investigation decided to destroy all evidence. This is to ensure that no future government or independent court would have original evidence at its disposal. While recordings of the phone calls are all over YouTube and other Internet sites, under Turkish law copies are not admissible in court. The lesson? In Turkey, corruption occurs with impunity. That may be tragic for Turkey itself, the Turkish middle class, and foreign investors unwilling to pony up cash; but embezzlement, bribes, and kickbacks don’t necessarily take lives.

Alas, corruption has become endemic in other ways that can have devastating consequences. In his efforts to depict Turkey as a great, emerging power, Erdoğan decided to go nuclear. In 2010, he signed a $22 billion agreement with Russia—not exactly the industry standard of nuclear safety—to build a nuclear power plant at Akkuyu along Turkey’s southern coast. (In 2013, Erdoğan finalized another $22 billion agreement with a Japanese and French concern to build a second nuclear plant in Sinop, on Turkey’s Black Sea coast). Now it’s emerging that signatures on the engineering assessment of the plant’s environmental impact were forged. But, why worry? It’s only a nuclear plant in an active earthquake zone. Alas, the right people might have benefited in the short term, but the long-term impact of such fraud can be devastating and impact not only Turkey, but southeastern Europe, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Israel as well.

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How a Fugitive Family Bought the Obama W.H., Hillary, and Menendez

President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

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President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

The crux of the story is fairly simple. As the Times report begins:

The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.

The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.

It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuador accuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.

The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.

The Times notes that there are essentially two dimensions to this family story. There are the family’s “patriarchs,” Roberto and William Isaías. They ran an Ecuadorian bank until, according to Ecuadorian authorities, they ran it into the ground. They stood accused of falsifying balance sheets in order to obtain access to bailout funds. The Ecuadorian government says this fraud cost the state $400 million. They were convicted and sentenced in 2012 to eight years in prison.

But they are not in prison. They are in Miami. (Yes, there is a difference.) They were sentenced in absentia and won’t be extradited.

Then there is Estefanía Isaías, whose case adds to the intrigue.

Estefanía was working as a television executive. She was also engaged in what American consular officials called “alien smuggling.” She was bringing people into the country under false pretenses so they could work as maids. For that, she was barred from entering the U.S.–and from a job with a major Obama campaign bundler–until recently when her ban was overturned by the Obama administration.

So how are they all free to live in the United States? The answer is as old as time: follow the money. Here’s what the Obama campaign got:

The Obama administration then reversed its decision and gave Ms. Isaías the waiver she needed to come to the United States — just as tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the family poured into Mr. Obama’s campaign coffers.

An email from Mr. Menendez’s office sharing the good news was dated May 15, 2012, one day after, campaign finance records show, Ms. Isaías’s mother gave $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, which provided donations to the president and other Democrats. …

In 2012, the Isaías family donated about $100,000 to the Obama Victory Fund. Campaign finance records show that their most generous donations came just before a request to the administration.

And Menendez:

Ms. Isaías’s mother, María Mercedes, had recently donated $30,000 to the Senate campaign committee that Mr. Menendez led when she turned to him for help in her daughter’s case. At least two members of Mr. Menendez’s staff worked with Ms. Isaías and her father, as well as lawyers and other congressional offices, to argue that she had been unfairly denied entry into the United States.

Over the course of the next year, as various members of the Isaías family donated to Mr. Menendez’s re-election campaign, the senator and his staff repeatedly made calls, sent emails and wrote letters about Ms. Isaías’s case to Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Mills, the consulate in Ecuador, and the departments of State and Homeland Security.

After months of resistance from State Department offices in Ecuador and Washington, the senator lobbied Ms. Mills himself, and the ban against Ms. Isaías was eventually overturned.

And Hillary Clinton:

But the case involving Estefanía could prove awkward for Mrs. Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time high-ranking officials overruled the agency’s ban on Ms. Isaías for immigration fraud, and whose office made calls on the matter.

Alfredo J. Balsera, the Obama fund-raiser whose firm, Balsera Communications, sponsored Ms. Isaías’s visa, was featured recently in USA Today as a prominent Latino fund-raiser backing Mrs. Clinton for president in 2016.

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

In declaring his candidacy for president in 2007, Obama took aim at special interests “who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” He continued: “They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that kind of politics is over.”

Obama has not only not changed the culture of Washington, but arguably made it more insular and susceptible to influence-buying, essentially turning the White House into eBay for ambassadorships, for example. If you’ve got your checkbook with you, Obama and Hillary and Menendez are all about constituent services. Obama’s Washington has never been for anyone other than elites and donors. And it’s never been clearer than it is today.

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