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Clinton Cash

10 May 2015

Clinton Cash
Clinton Cash, by Peter Schweizer (2015)
If Clinton Cash is one of the most talked about books of the political season, it's with good reason: Hillary Clinton is the front runner for the Democratic nomination for president, and may end up as president. Any insights we can gain into the inner workings of a potentially important leader are worth making some effort to acquire. That said, Democratic friends of mine have attacked the book, and the author, with a vicious, unthinking gusto normally reserved for climate-denying pedophiles who breed fighting dogs for a living. One fellow tried saying the author was a right-wing lunatic, but when challenged did not know the author's name. Into this void of rational thought I step, in an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Clinton Cash relates the coordinated activities of Bill and Hillary Clinton as Bill trots the globe collecting donations for the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative, intervening in local affairs for international businessmen who need help with their ventures, with Hillary manipulating U.S. legislative, regulatory and diplomatic processes. And oh, yeah, providing occasional charitable works as well, although not always with success. While a small part of the book focuses on activities in the latter part of the Clinton administration, most of it emphasizes the benefit that Bill and the Foundation received from Hillary's stint as Secretary of State. Schweizer presents a series of situations in which the Clintons used Hillary's Cabinet position for substantial personal benefits, leaving the logical assumption that such activities will continue and extend in a new Clinton administration.

Books of this type tend to fall into one of three categories, all of which speak to credibility. A book full of the kind of detailed claims Schweizer makes stands or falls on its credibility. The worst such kind of book is written by an Ann Coulter or a Michael Moore: a complete polemic with twenty opinions and names called for every fact presented (but never sourced). These books have a point of view to push; you know whether you agree with them before you buy the book, because you only buy it if you are sympatico. Thankfully, Clinton Cash is not such a book. I determined this from watching George Stephanopoulous interview Schweizer a week before the book was released, else I might not have read it at all.

Another type of such book is at the opposite extreme, the academic approach, a dense packing of information that leaves us longing for fewer pages, larger typeface, and a historian who takes himself a little less seriously.

What we are left with, and what we get, is a fairly happy medium: a book of less than two hundred pages, most chapters a self-contained story that can be read without the others, in a popular style that makes the book readable. Schweizer also provides a surprising amount of footnotes, which is important: footnotes allow for fact checking. Political hatchet jobs are short on facts and even shorter on the specifics that make the facts checkable. Clinton Cash, by contrast, is 184 pages long with another 57 pages of footnotes. Three pages of notes for every ten pages of text is an unusual achievement for a non-academic political work. Schweizer clearly wants to be taken seriously, and he has earned that right.

Schweizer takes the position that political bribery of this type is transactional: donations are associated with favors granted, associated closely enough that quid pro quo may be safely assumed even if not immediately proven. The SEC investigates insider trading on this basis, he points out: They see a pattern of closely related trades - transactions - and infer the possibility of abuse. The pattern is not the proof; it is the suggestion that leads to the investigation, which provides proof, or not. So when George Stephanopolous grilled Schweizer on whether he had uncovered proof of illegality, Schweizer correctly answered that is not his job. It is a prosecutor's job. As a journalist it is his job, and ability, to raise questions only. History bears this out: Woodward and Bernstein never found a "smoking gun" either. The straw that broke Nixon's back came from the Congressional investigations that followed.

With this in mind, Schweizer lays out situations that range from Russia to India to Nigeria to Haiti:
  • When Hillary became Secretary of State, Bill's speaking fees rose from about $150,000 a speech to $450,000 ranging up to $700,000 - and the biggest fees always took place when a government-manipulated business deal was part of the package. Instead of curtailing his activities for ethical reasons, Bill escalated on every front. Many charitable visits overseas take place with a business deal / government influence component built in.
  • Bill cut a deal with the dictator of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to allow the takeover of a Kazakh uranium mine by a crony, Frank Giustra, who subsequently donated $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation. Nazarbayez was notorious for his human rights abuses, and was so criticized by U.S. officials such as Vice President Joe Biden. Days after Clinton endorsed him and he left the country, the headquarters of Nazarbayev's opponent was burned and the opponent arrested. After the dictator was re-elected, Clinton sent him a congratulatory note that was promptly made public. Although Hillary expressed early concerns publicly about this project, as Bill sealed the details she went silent. Not long after more than a half dozen of Giustra's business associates made sizable donations or pledges to the Clinton Global Initiative, with most amounts ranging from $1 million to $5 million each.
  • With several multimillion-dollar Clinton Foundation donors at the center of the deal, as Secretary of State Hillary enabled Russian efforts to take control of Kazakh uranium assets and later, American uranium assets from Wyoming, Utah, Texas and South Dakota - over the objections of Congressmen and Senators from the affected states. This occurred only after Bill met with Vladimir Putin and held a "plenary session" involving top Russian officials and businessmen eager for a piece of the pie. The company involved, UraniumOne, is positioning itself to dominate uranium markets worldwide. It even made a stab at opening a uranium mine near the Grand Canyon, but plans were killed by protests from the Navajo Nation, whose participation was needed for land access. Eventually the Clinton Foundation and related initiatives received more than $145 million in donations for this transaction.
  • After years of the Clintons opposing nuclear trade with India, Indian businessman Sant Chatwal and Indian parliamentarian Amar Singh wined, dined, and funded the Clintons and their Foundation to the tune of millions of dollars. Foreign businessmen cannot donate to American political campaigns, but they can donate to the candidates' foundations. At the heart of the question was lifting restrictions on nuclear trade with India. As Senator, Hillary introduced amendments keeping the restrictions tight; but even after she lost the presidential nomination battle with Barack Obama, New Delhi politicians remained focused on turning her around. That year Chatwal arranged for a $450,000 payday for Bill to give a speech; Singh then sat down to have a heart-to-heart with Hillary, after which she reversed her long standing policy opposing nuclear trade with India, against the recommendations of her top staff, and the needed trade bill passed the Senate with her support. In so doing, the Clinton helped destabilize Asia by allowing the development of nuclear technology in India. Singh was later arrested for bribery of Parliament officials in relation to the deal, and last year Chatwal pleaded guilty to illegally funneling more than $180,000 dollars to Hillary and two other federal candidates.
  • Canadian businessman Lukas Lundin made a $100 million pledge to the Clinton Foundation in order to secure Hillary's assistance in maintaining the status quote in Congo - then controlled by a vicious warlord - in order to keep his lucrative mines in the Congo: "What benefited Lundin was the status quo in Congo. That status quo was preserved by Hillary's disappointing failure as secretary of state to implement any of the key provision in the law she had strongly advocated only a few years before--before Lundin made his contribution." When competing companies tried to do the same as Lundin, however, as secretary of state Hillary intervened directly to stop them. A similar situation arose in Ethiopia, where human rights abuses were tolerated on the behalf of Clinton Foundation or Clinton Global Initiative donors.
  • Bill controlled the Haiti disaster recovery funds, which he generously doled out to Clinton Foundation donors to build more than 25,000 houses and other needed infrastructure. The money was spent but less than 2,000 homes built; many were inhabitable from the day they were poorly built.
The list of abuses does not stop here, but to continue detailing them would mean writing my own book. Near the end Schweizer does start sliding away from his researched facts to start harping on old Clinton war stories of varying veracity. On that basis the entire concluding chapter is a throwaway, but it's not representative of the book, which is well worth the short time required to get through it.

If Hillary was new to the presidential game I think this book could be a death blow to her aspirations, but she's not. Voters have gotten so used to the stories of political manipulation and abuse by the Clintons that quite possibly all such considerations have already been factored in by supporters and detractors alike; these stories and more like than might help explain why Democrats stay home rather than vote.

True believers believe Hillary can do no wrong, so will ignore the facts happily - and like some of my friends, slather the author and the book with disdain while never reading a word. Republicans are happy to see more criticisms of the Clintons, but the accusations make them uncomfortable because in principle they believe in such behavior: Instead they want to see one of their own in charge of the unethical action. This leaves other Democrats in middle because the charges go to the heart of what makes a Democrat, the desire to see good government working on behalf of the small man instead of the big business. With widening income inequality the focus of increasing scrutiny, this is a major concern. Such Democrats are more likely to read the book, be horrified, and turn to Bernie Sanders for solace; indeed, I already see it happening. Will Sanders become the new Eugene McCarthy, proud poet of the hip generation, and vanquish the inevitable behemoth, just as McCarthy scared LBJ from the 1968 race? We'll see. Meanwhile, if you care about political bribery and financial corruption, read this book and draw your own conclusions. So far the facts have yet to be successfully disputed, and the investigative trail has been picked up by the Washington Post, New York Times, and Boston Herald, all in apparent agreement that Schweizer's accusations are substantive. 3-1/2 stars.

You may also like this related article: Character Matters (152)
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