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Echoes of the Clinton Legacy in Trump’s Impeachment

Bill and Hillary Clinton arrive for the inauguration ceremonies of Donald Trump in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017. (Rick Wilking/Reuters )

Making the click-through worthwhile: How the Clinton Foundation casts a shadow over impeachment and helps explain why Republicans feel so little pressure to turn against Trump; House Republicans gain a new member with a really unexpected voting record, speculating on the final vote in the House and an examination of the grand reversal of the parties from twenty years ago.

Republicans Look to Clinton When Evaluating Trump

Why do so many grassroots Republicans shrug at President Trump’s efforts to strongarm Ukraine into investigating the Bidens? Because they believe, with some compelling evidence, that this is how the game is played — that powerful figures in government blur their personal interest and the national interest all the time, with no consequence. The stories about the Clinton Foundation percolated and bubbled up for years — but only at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign did most of official Washington notice, or even begin to object. The Clintons never believed the rules applied to them, and they shamelessly defied of previously agreed transparency and disclosure rules.

January 4, 2012, an email from Doug Band to John Podesta: “The investigation into [Chelsea Clinton] getting paid for campaigning, using foundation resources for her wedding and life for a decade, taxes on money from her parents . . . I hope that you will speak to her and end this.”

December 2012: Huma Abedin is simultaneously employed in four different jobs — official State Department employee, adviser to Teneo consulting, contractor to the Clinton Foundation, and privately-paid personal secretary to Hillary Clinton. This made it impossible for subsequent investigations and reviews to determine and verify what purpose and in what role Abedin was in when she met with associates relating to Clinton.

February 18, 2015: “Many of the [Clinton Foundation’s] biggest donors are foreigners who are legally barred from giving to U.S. political candidates. A third of foundation donors who have given more than $1 million are foreign governments or other entities based outside the United States, and foreign donors make up more than half of those who have given more than $5 million.”

February 25, 2015: “The Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars from seven foreign governments during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, including one donation that violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration. Foundation officials acknowledged they should have sought approval in 2010 from the State Department ethics office, as required by the agreement for new government donors, before accepting a $500,000 donation from the Algerian government.”

April 23, 2015: “As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors.”

April 30, 2015: “The foundation also acknowledged this week it did not disclose 1,100 mostly foreign donors to the Clinton-Giustra Enterprise Partnership.”

August 17, 2016: “Hillary and Bill Clinton’s ties to two influential Lebanese-Nigerian businessmen are raising fresh questions about whether the State Department showed favoritism to Clinton Foundation donors.”

August 20, 2016: “The Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars from countries that the State Department — before, during and after Mrs. Clinton’s time as secretary — criticized for their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues. The countries include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Brunei and Algeria. Saudi Arabia has been a particularly generous benefactor. The kingdom gave between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation.”

September 6, 2016: “State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave the Clinton Foundation a pass on identifying foreign donors in its charitable filings — making it impossible to know if it got any special favors while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, according to a report Tuesday.”

October 26, 2016: “Bill Clinton is enjoying the private residence above his presidential library in Arkansas at the expense of taxpayers and his charity foundation — a potential violation of nonprofit regulations. The 5,000-square-foot penthouse which sits atop the William J. Clinton Library in Little Rock is largely funded by the National Archives in Washington, which pours nearly $6 million into program and maintenance costs for the entire institution every year . . . Costs are also offset by a $7 million endowment from the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.”

November 4, 2016: “The Clinton Foundation has confirmed it accepted a $1 million gift from Qatar while Hillary Clinton was U.S. secretary of state without informing the State Department, even though she had promised to let the agency review new or significantly increased support from foreign governments.”

The Clintons insisted that the large donations from foreign governments and donors had nothing to do with influencing U.S. policy. However, once Hillary Clinton was defeated, donations dropped like a stone: “The Clinton Foundation’s $30.7 million revenue last year is less than half the $62.9 million it raised in 2016 as Clinton was at the height of her presidential campaign. Each of the two years since Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election has seen the organization’s revenue drop to record lows, raising less than any fiscal year in more than a decade — a sharp contrast to the $249 million raised during Clinton’s first year as secretary of state.”

Perhaps you think that losing the presidency is sufficient “punishment” for Hillary Clinton.

But many Americans believe the evidence indicates that the Clinton Foundation offered the world’s wealthy a secret way to buy access to the Secretary of State and potential future president, in hopes of influencing current or future U.S. foreign policy, and that sleazy deep-pocketed power brokers from all across the globe homed in on it like moths to a flame. What’s more, just about all Democratic legislators, the rest of the Obama administration, the foreign policy professionals and think-tank types and a big chunk of the media pretty much just accepted it. Maybe they didn’t like it; maybe they occasionally offered on or off-the-record quotes about how “the optics looked bad” or some other wet-noodle tsk-tsk. But almost no one in official Washington looked at the Clinton Foundation and saw it as an unacceptable form of corruption.

All of it was legal, or legal enough, or in a gray area, and not something any prosecutor wanted to waste time on. (How many juries would convict Hillary Clinton?) No one got arrested, no one got charged with crimes, and Bill and Hillary Clinton got away with it, other than the admittedly significant consequence of losing the presidency that she wanted so badly.

In this light, Trump fans find it easy to shrug off all kinds of allegations — from trying to bring the G7 to his own resort, to foreign governments staying in Trump hotels and then gushing on Twitter to suck up to the president, to big checks to Stormy Daniels, to having a bunch of shady felons working on the campaign, campaigns and party committees spending millions at Trump businesses, to allegations of using his personal foundation to promote his own interests . . . all the way to everything with Ukraine. Every Trump fan can easily fall back on, “hey, it’s no worse than what the Clintons were doing, and nobody even bothered to investigate them. Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Biden, while the Clintons just wanted cash.”

Do two wrongs make a right? No, not at all, and I would prefer a world with institutions that rebuked conflicts of interest wherever they found them — in the Republican Party and in the Democratic Party, in Chappaqua and Mar-a-Lago, in the Clinton Foundation and the Trump Organization. But as long as grassroots activists feel like one side has gotten off scot-free for unethical behavior, they will convince themselves what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

There’s just that lingering problem of what’s actually good for the country.

‘Huge Supporter of Socialist Policies’ Switches Sides

Rep. Jeff Van Drew endorsed Cory Booker to be president, and he votes with the Trump administration’s position a whopping seven percent of the time. He voted to overturn Trump’s emergency declaration for border wall funding, to condemn Trump’s statements about “the Squad” as racist, to create a path to citizenship for those who came to the U.S. illegally as children, to block the Trump administration from granting waivers to states regarding the Affordable Care Act, to restore “Net Neutrality” regulations, against a ban on transgenders serving in the military, to require the president to disclose his tax returns and for government funding bills that did not include wall funding. A month ago, the National Republican Congressional Committee called Van Drew “a huge supporter of socialist policies.”

And now he’s a Republican, apparently almost entirely because he doesn’t want to vote for impeachment. No doubt the president loves the symbolism of a Democrat switching sides and the NRCC loves the fact that they don’t have to spend money to win back a top-tier swing district in 2020, but . . . how much did the GOP get with this flip?

How Many House Democrats Will Defect on the Impeachment Votes?

The impeachment vote is Wednesday; obviously Van Drew remains opposed and the other House Democrat who voted against starting the inquiry, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, told reporters Saturday “he will vote against impeaching President Donald Trump.” Peterson said he expects four or five other Democrats will do the same.

As of this writing, 60 House Democrats and one House Republican — Tom Rooney — have not stated publicly whether they will vote for the articles of impeachment.

If that comes to pass, it will be a small victory for President Trump and opponents of impeachment, but you’ll hear a lot about it. From the Democrats’ perspective, the impeachment hearings went about as well as they could have hoped — but it will leave them with probably 228 or 227 votes to impeach, after 232 Democrats voted to start the inquiry. (Note that Elijah Cummings’ death and Katie Hill’s resignation leave two previously-Democratic seats open.) That handful of Democrats who voted for the inquiry but against impeachment think they’re saving their careers, but it’s easy to imagine that on Election Day 2020, the Republicans in their district are still mad as heck about the vote to start impeachment and at least a handful of Democrats will be still irked about letting the president off the hook.

As noted last week, if one of the aims of the impeachment hearings was to strengthen public support of impeachment, they failed. This morning, the FiveThirtyEight aggregation of public polling finds 47.6 percent support removal of the president, 46.2 percent do not — about where it’s been, or perhaps a little tighter, for the past several weeks.

ADDENDUM: Over in the Article, I note that the parties have really switched sides on impeachment from 1998.


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