There are several consistent themes that are emerging from the blizzard of coverage around the latest Hillary Clinton controversy to be embraced by the political media, namely that the Clinton Foundation really does do excellent and important work, and that none of the revelations thus far amount to anything more than bad optics. There’s also one rhetorical question that Clinton critics have consistently asked that the feel adequately justifies this inquisition, and I don’t just mean anti-Clinton zealots like Joe Scarborough.
Here are NBC News reporting stalwarts Kristen Welker and Andrea Mitchell asking the question that’s on everyone’s lips: if there was nothing wrong with the Clinton Foundation taking foreign donations while Hillary was secretary of state, why will they stop taking them if she’s elected president?
What they haven’t answered is the question, why was it okay for her to accept foreign and corporate donations when she was secretary of state, and not if she were to become president? Why would one be a conflict and not the other?
It’s a question that is not designed to be answered, but rather, to help Mitchell et al make the case that the facts alone don’t let them. As it turns out, though, there is an answer to that question, albeit a depressing one, and it was well-illustrated on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes Tuesday night.
Hayes hosted a three-box with rabid but thorough anti-Hillary Clinton progressive David Sirota and Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen that examined the premise that maybe the Clinton campaign is right, and all of this hoo-ha about donors is really just the natural intersection of Big Philanthropy and the government. Hayes asked Sirota to explain a fundamental piece that’s missing from the “corruption” narrative, which is how is it “corrupting” to try and save lives?
Sirota responded that soliciting donations from parties that could or do have business before the State Department is a potential conflict of interest (but only if a quid pro quo can be demonstrated), and added that while the foundation “has done a lot of good work, but let’s also remember it’s built a political profile for the Clintons. It’s not like they don’t get anything out of the Clinton foundation.”
Well, maybe in the same way that “Newman’s Own” built a profile for Paul Newman, which is not at all. Sirota also asked “What do the donors think they’re getting, and why do they continue to give?”
That’s the excellent question that should be at the beginning of this story, not at its center, as Cohen was about to point out:
Hayes: My sense is you think this is essentially overblown, that there’s no actual smoke here. So what is the response to that? Why is the Saudi government giving the Clinton foundation money if not to essentially purchase access or influence?
Cohen: I suppose that’s part of the reason. It’s maybe also just to burnish their international reputation. But the fact is, if you’re going to say that these donations led to access at the State Department, you have to prove that happened. And every story I’ve seen proves the opposite. Donors go trying to get help with things and they’re rebuffed or not responded to. And so there is no additional access that the donation provides to them. So I’m not sure what the scandal is actually here. I keep reading more and more, it seems to me Clinton donors are able to send e-mails to Huma Abedin that don’t get responded to to. I’m not sure that’s a scandal.
Now, from the way David Sirota is shaking his head while Cohen is talking, you might get the idea that he’s about to drop some knowledge here, and tell us about a time that a conflict was evident. You would be wrong. When Hayes made the case that the people in that Associated Press report probably could have gotten a meeting with the secretary of state in any case, Sirota’s response was “Well, we can’t know.”
Can’t we, though? If the question is one of access, it’s a fairly simple matter to compare the types of people who got meetings without donating, versus those who donated, and make judgments about that. If the question is of influence, of changing policy in exchange for donations, is Sirota suggesting that there’s no burden of proof for that accusation, that Secretary Clinton must prove she wasn’t influenced?
Turns out, that’s exactly what he, and everyone else in the political media, is saying. Hillary Clinton can never be trusted because she can’t prove she isn’t not trustworthy. And so it is that Chris Hayes, in wrapping up this segment, answered Andrea Mitchell’s rhetorical question:
To me, the argument on the perception end seems the strongest argument. Which is, yes, you are going to be in a condition where there’s a plausible case for conflict of interest, right? And that to me seems to be ultimately what is being acknowledged in the announcements that are happening now, which is that, yes, I don’t think the Clinton folks think they did anything wrong. I don’t think they sold the Saudis arms because of a Saudi donation, but I think they have come around to believe, based on their announcements, if she is president of the states, you cannot run things this way, precisely because of this back and forth.
The answer is that the HIV-infected children of the world can’t have nice things (like medicine) because it just doesn’t look good to people like Andrea Mitchell and David Sirota. That’s it. The foundation and its donations are withstanding white-hot scrutiny, and not a single person can give an example of an actual conflict, an actual problem, an actual person who is hurt by this, and in a sane world, the Clinton Foundation would continue to do a lot of good until someone did present such an example.
Update: Apparently, David Sirota doesn’t want his Twitter followers to read my actual critique, so he cherry-picked part of it and lied about what I said:
— David Sirota (@davidsirota) August 24, 2016
Obviously, the problem is not that people are questioning the Clintons, it’s that the answers they’re getting are crap, such as Sirota’s in the clips above. The answer, that it just doesn’t look good, strikes me as insufficient. To be fair, I’d probably feel the same way if the cause in question were, say, chinchilla rescue.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.