How Much Corruption Is Too Much?

Author:
Updated:
Original:

I started out opposed to Hillary Clinton for POTUS in 2016 for the same reason I opposed her in 2008. I said then that I remembered the "ambient corruption level" of the Bill Clinton administration and I saw no evidence the Clintons had developed some new sense of probity.

So, here we are.

In connection with the news of the State Department Inspector General report finding that Clinton violated State Department rules with her home brewed email server, MSNBC (not exactly a minion of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy) ran tape of Clinton saying she was within the rules again and again.

There was also a graphic showing the email practices of all the post-email Secretaries of State. Contrary to Clinton's futile bleats, there was no comparison. Not with Colin Powell or indeed with anybody.

That said, Colin Powell did violate the rules as well. The difference is that Clinton had a motive contra the public interest and Powell did not. I note, also, that Clinton was the only ex-Secretary who declined to be interviewed by the IG.

Now, the Clintons' ace bundler since forever and former board member of the Clinton Global Initiative, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, is under an FBI investigation of his fundraising practices.

The probe is focused on Wang Wenliang, Chairman of Dandong Port Group. Dandong has been doing a major business offensive into US markets that assumes U.S. cronyism works like Chinese cronyism.

Does it? That's a major issue in the coming election.

For his part, Gov. McAuliffe said he was not sure he had ever met Wang.

I am not informed if Gov. McAuliffe has a side gig selling Florida swamp land.

He introduced Wang to Clinton at a fundraiser held at Clinton's Washington home, according to Time.

This guy he claims he could not pick out of a lineup contributed $120,000 to his campaign. I do not think that would be unlawful because Wang is a legal permanent resident. The probe is not about taking political money from a foreigner, which is the allegation McAuliffe has been defending against in his public statements. It is about pay to play, my impolite term for lobbying for a foreign country without registering as a foreign agent.

After the fundraiser at Clinton's house that slipped McAuliffe's mind, Wang made a $500,000 contribution to the Clinton Foundation, a down payment on what became $2 million. Among the guests were the usual Team Clinton apologists who line up to testify "Me no Alamo! Me no Goliad!" every time one of these fandangos happens: James "Ragin' Cajun" Carville, Paul Begala, John Podesta. It's fair to say they ought to have personal knowledge Wang was there and the moving money is public record.

I'm not going to get writer's cramp detailing how Dandong's pay to play offensive has been very, very cost-effective. If you are reading in good faith rather than shilling for Clinton in the dark before the facts come out, you can follow the Dandong money as well as I can.

The Sunday after these reports broke, McAuliffe hosted a $5,000 a plate fundraiser for Clinton.

The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is a real deal and it's the only reason why the Clintons have gotten away with corruption up to and including sale of the pardon power. The VRWC can always be counted on to overreach and that overreaching turns public opinion.

There is no evidence that either Clinton has ever been disloyal to the U.S., and most of Bill Clinton's big policies were absolutely in the public interest. One of several very big exceptions was his embrace of the deregulation craze that led to signing Gramm-Leach-Bliley without so much as a sorrowful signing statement. If he wanted to be a hero to the country when the blow-up of the unleashed investment banks happened, he should have vetoed the damn thing and let Congress override...which Congress would certainly have done.

There is no illegality, but I'm faced with an ambient corruption level in Clintonland that is difficult to stomach. Nothing has changed, but I fully expect the VRWC to overreach again. Your mileage may vary on how much ambient corruption level is too much.

If you look at the statement the Clinton campaign released in response to the IG report, a fair summary would be "when caught lying, double down and lie louder."

Yes, Trump lies worse. Yes, Trump is incompetent to run government. Yes, Trump is a blowhard and a bully.

Clinton’s resume looks better on paper than any candidate on offer this year, but this year the voters are treating resumes of public service as rap sheets. That is a really dumb idea that will not last, but so were the massive deregulation of Wall Street and redistribution of wealth upwards of the Reagan years.

The only thing Hillary Clinton has to recommend her for POTUS in this toxic political year is Donald J. Trump. I'll remind my friends who have been in her corner from the get-go that the polling says the American people completely agreed with this analysis before the IG report and before the FBI started following the Dandong money.

I doubt that any laws were broken. Probably, the worst you can accuse the Clintons of would be allowing Dandong to assume pay to play is the normal deal in this country and profiting from that in terms of political money, not personal money. That is, their ambient corruption level is in the penumbral shadow of illegality and their stock in trade on the defense side is the crazy slime that will ooze out of Drudge, Breitbart, Hannity and the rest of the echo chamber. The VRWC is never satisfied with showing bad judgment. They want treason.

The Benghazi Accountability Review Board report would have been a stone around Clinton's neck if lunatics claiming crazy stuff had not besieged her and Congress had not wasted almost seven million dollars and counting without uncovering any material fact beyond the ARB report and the other eight previous investigations. The Democrats are quick to point out, correctly, that the Republicans have spent longer investigating Benghazi than the investigations of Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, Iran-Contra, and Hurricane Katrina---with no stated goal beyond driving down Clinton’s poll numbers.

The VRWC that tried to get the public to drink this swill will no doubt bail her out again, but I keep hoping there'll come a time when the voters will not stand for it.

But what are the voters to do? President Trump means we flame out; President Clinton means we rot.

There are better candidates but no viable way to get to them: Sanders, Kasich, Bloomberg, Biden. The Libertarian Party is about to field a Gary Johnson-Bill Weld ticket. Socially liberal; fiscally conservative; no visible sleaze. If they could raise enough money to make it a horse race, it might be worth a try. Both did well as governors, so the big problem would be foreign policy...but no bigger problem than Trump would present.

As far as I know, I coined the phrase "ambient corruption level" to express my unease with the Clinton years. Does anyone care to defend the White House travel office scandal in terms of the public interest? No laws were broken, as the reliable VRWC tried to claim. But is it right to fire people for no reason beyond helping your friends? And then bulldoze anybody who notices with a pack of lies? You know, like tribal governments do all the time?

I understand that lying with a straight face is a requirement to be POTUS and I too can name lies told for the good of the country by even rigidly honest people. Eisenhower. Carter. The necessity to lie arises. We have not violated (Soviet)(Iranian) air space. And there's an endless list of CIA ops that required White House cover stories. While I disagreed with most of those operations, once the decision is made you pretty well have to make the best of it or resign.

Lies and misdirection saved a lot of lives in WWII. And sacrificed some, as when Churchill did not evacuate Coventry escorts in advance of Nazi bombing because to do so would inform the Nazis we had their code. So I understand lying and misdirecting are part of the job.

Remember President Obama cracking jokes at the White House Correspondents' Dinner after he sent SEALs on a high-risk mission to get Osama bin Laden? Even now, looking at the tapes of that event, I am amazed he covered that gig to no purpose but misdirection.

I don't think the degree of probity I'd like to see in the White House is unrealistic. I do think the Clintons will at some point go too far into the legal gray area and wind up wearing the sewage in which they choose to bathe so regularly. Should the VRWC fail to ride to the rescue, the result will be most unpleasant.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.