Jennifer Rubin: Why Clinton's shadiness won't be fatal

By Jennifer Rubin comment

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Photo / AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Photo / AP


The Associated Press reported yesterday: "More than half the people outside the Government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State gave money - either personally or through companies or groups - to the Clinton Foundation. It's an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.

"At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programmes, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to AP. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as US$156 million. At least 40 donated more than US$100,000 each, and 20 gave more than US$1 million."

Let's get one thing out of the way up front: This is almost certainly not illegal.

For that, Clinton should send bushels of roses to former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, his lawyers and their legal defence fund donors, who won a ruling from the Supreme Court that setting up a meeting is not an official act under federal bribery statutes.

Would she have had these meetings anyway? In some cases, yes. Many of the donors were longtime Clinton friends and donors, international philanthropists and prominent public figures.

She also did not see every big donor.

But the jumble of public and private interests and the appearance of conflicts of interest were why the whole enterprise was dodgy from the start.

This foundation scandal is in the realm in between "perfectly ethical and legal" behaviour and illegal behaviour. Call it sleaze or the appearance of corruption.

Chalk it up to the Clintons' habitual blindness to impropriety. Never do they say, "Well I could do that, but better that I don't".

In a sense, there is nothing new here. We already knew the foundation served two purposes - one altruistic and one entirely selfish.

It was a sort of super PAC, a big pot of money to which friends, favour- and publicity-seekers, do-gooders and celebrities all could donate.

It, in turn, would generate lucrative speaking engagements for Bill Clinton and later Hillary Clinton, employ cronies like Sid Blumenthal and pay for lavish travel. Mostly, it would keep Hillary Clinton connected to the rich and famous for what everyone knew would be one last opportunity to win the White House.

Like the pallets of cash to Iran, the latest emails just add juicy details to an existing tale.

The Clintons have always felt both entitled and persecuted.

In their decades in public life, they have played fast and loose with rules and norms that inhibit others, always winding up just a smidgen short of illegality. Their sense of self-righteousness leads them to conclude that they are being "hounded" for inconsequential matters.

The lesson they learn is invariably the wrong one: We can get away with it.

They rationalise that it's just the vast right-wing conspiracy at work - and the Republicans usually chip in by wildly overplaying their hand (e.g. asking her repetitive questions for 11 hours in a Benghazi hearing, demanding a special prosecutor).

She has already nailed down the segment of voters who prefer "corrupt" over "unhinged". So long as Trump is her opponent, she sails along.

I doubt this new tidbit about the foundation will change many voters' minds. Those siding with her are either true Hillary Clinton believers, Democratic die-hards and/or people convinced that Donald Trump is nuts and a danger to the republic.

In short, she has already nailed down the segment of voters who prefer "corrupt" over "unhinged". So long as Trump is her opponent, she sails along.

The latest revelation won't change many voters' minds, with the exception of one category of voters. Some Republicans who planned to vote for her may either stay home or vote for third or fourth candidates, especially in states that are not all that competitive. If the disgusted Republican voters stay home, it will actually harm down-ticket Republicans, one more irony in the Clinton wars.

Yes, Clinton will "get away with it," in the sense that the foundation antics in all likelihood won't land her in jail or cost her the presidency. But it does further diminish her. It makes the public more cynical and therefore governance that much harder. That means voters are once again the losers.

Finally, it cannot be said enough: Republicans would be winning easily against this deeply flawed opponent with virtually any other candidate but Trump.

The sheer stupidity of the Republican primary electorate's decision and of the reaction of party leadership, which could have blocked or dumped him, is more maddening than even Hillary Clinton's shadiness.

- Washington Post

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