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Time for Sanders to Play Hardball


shutterstock_367986629Crush Rush /

Bernie Sanders, whose campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is on a roll following a stunning if narrow win in last Tuesday’s Michigan primary, where he embarrassed pollsters who were predicting a double-digit rout by Hillary Clinton only a day before the voting, has famously said he’s “not interested” in the issue of his opponent’s exclusive use, during her five years as Obama’s Secretary of State, of a private, instead of government email account and server.

He should be. But forget about the right-wing charges of leaked diplomatic cables — the big issue is what kind of diplomatic favors she was selling, and to whom.

Clinton’s achilles’ heel is the widespread feeling even among many of those Democrats voting for her, that she is basically “not trustworthy.” People have good reason to feel that way, and it’s not just the way she changes her tune, her positions, and her accounts of her prior positions faster than an octopus or Chameleon. She is demonstrably a serial liar.

Take Clinton’s claim that she opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership, a new NAFTA-like trade pact being pushed by the Obama administration and most members of Congress, which threatens to essentially gut the right of the US and other signatory nations to enforce or even enact worker safety, environmental protection and other laws. The TPP would accomplish this abrogation of national sovereignty by allowing corporations — even foreign subsidiaries of US corporations — to sue over such laws and claiming massive damages, on the grounds that they violate the terms of the TPP. The treaty even allows them to bring their cases to non-governmental arbitration panels, which could overrule national courts. Clinton may claim on the campaign trail that she’s against this horrific treaty, but as Secretary of State, when her office was helping to negotiate it, she was calling it “the gold standard” of trade treaties. Or take her initial claim, when Sanders began calling her out for giving speeches to Goldman Sachs and other mega-banks for which she was paid as much as $225,000 a pop. Initially she made the absurd excuse that these paid speeches were delivered “before I had decided to run for president.”

Actually, she gave three of those speeches, for a total of $675,000, to Goldman Sachs in late 2013, after she had left the Obama State Department precisely in order to prepare for her presidential run. Even the suggestion that she wasn’t planning to run earlier than that is an insult to the intelligence of the voter, but it was in any event widely known that her departure from State was so she could start working — and building up a campaign war chest — for a 2016 presidential campaign. In fact, that’s what she was doing negotiating and gathering in those fat speaking fees (though because she had not formally announced yet as a candidate, neither she nor the banks had to report the money as campaign swill).

The reason Sanders should now start pressing her about the emails, which he earlier chivalrously dismissed as a non-story, is that the Clintons don’t do anything by accident. Hillary Clinton has defended her use of a private email system while she was Secretary of State as nothing new. “Everyone did it,” she has said dismissively, “Including (G. W. Bush’s Secretary of State) Colin Powell.” But while it’s true her predecessor Powell and her successor, John Kerry, may have at times used private email for their personal correspondence, they didn’t, as Clinton did for five years, use a private email system exclusively. Bit difference!

And there is good reason to suspect the reason she went to such lengths to keep full control over her email has to do with money and corruption.

Hillary and Bill Clinton didn’t just go off to write their memoirs after Bill left the White House. Rather, they set up an organization called the Clinton Foundation, headed by Bill and later their daughter Chelsea, which is a money-vac, sucking up huge donations denominated in millions of dollars (and paying themselves magnificent salaries along the way) from major domestic entities and individuals as well as foreign leaders and governments (many of them unsavory repressive regimes like Kuwait, Oman and Qatar).

In classic Clinton fashion, they have skirted close to the edge legally. Clinton reportedly promised the Obama administration, when she was being considered for the Secretary of State post, that the Clinton Foundation would not accept any donations from foreign governments during her tenure unless those governments had already given money to the foundation prior to her appointment. That was already a pretty loose standard for avoiding any appearance of undue foreign influence over diplomatic policy, but even that low standard was violated when, in 2010, the foundation accepted a $500,000 gift from the government of Algeria, which, it must be noted, was at that moment embroiled in lobbying the US to cut it some slack in terms of any condemnation for its human rights abuses (a determination that is made annually — you guessed it! — by the State Department).

Clinton and the foundation admitted, when this donation was exposed, that it had been “a mistake” to take that money, but then excused themselves saying that the money had just been a donation for Haitian earthquake relief, and that it had all been “passed through” to Haitian relief efforts. But that begs the question of why a government like Algeria’s could not have given those funds directly to relief organizations, like the Red Crescent or the Red Cross of the UN. It beggars belief to hear it claimed that Algeria felt that the best way to offer relief to suffering Haitians would be to give half a million bucks to the Clintons.

It is also a virtual certainty that negotiations over and instructions concerning the terms of that donation would have been among the conversations automatically stored on Clinton’s email server.

We’ll probably never know what corruption Clinton was involved in as Secretary of State though, because she deleted some 30,000 emails, saying they were reviewed by not a State Department lawyer but rather by her private attorney. Right there we almost certainly have the commission of a whole bushel of crimes involving destruction of evidence, since a private attorney is hired to determine what is and is not a matter of private or government business, but rather is hired to protect the interests of his or her client. If those emails were properly wiped by an IT expert, there is no way to recover them. That may effectively protect Clinton from prosecution, but it should not protect her from political attack and political damage.

Sanders should be putting her on trial in the campaign, demanding that she explain why she left it to her private attorney instead of the a State Department legal office to decide which of her emails (if any!) to delete. Let the voters be the jury. He should do this if for no other reason than because we can be sure, if he doesn’t, and if she wins the nomination in July, whoever wins the Republican nomination will be doing the same thing he should have done every day of the general election campaign.

The same goes for the transcripts of all those richly-compensated speeches Hillary Clinton gave to some of the nation’s largest, most reprehensible and most crooked banks. If, as she says, there is nothing embarrassing that she said in those speeches, she should have no qualms about releasing the transcripts. If she won’t release them, it’s obvious that they are hugely embarrassing. At best, they are probably examples of the most fawning sucking up to power and wealth. At worst, they are promises to protect these companies which criminally wrecked the US and global economy in the first decade of this century, from any serious regulations and enforcement actions that might prevent them from doing the same thing again.

Clinton, by the way, also lied about the availability of transcripts of those speeches she delivered. When the issue first came up, she said she would release them if she could determine who controlled access to them, and if those parties would agree. Only later did it come out that the making of transcripts of her talks was stipulated by her agent, at her request, because she wanted them available for when she someday wrote her memoir. Now that it’s clear that she owns the copyright to her talks, and has full control over whether to release them (and no doubt has copies of her own anyhow, given her plans for later use of them), she is saying she’ll only do so if all candidates release theirs. And isn’t referring to just her Democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders, but to all the remaining Republican candidates too.

Maybe the Sanders campaign, which is flush with cash, should offer a bounty, either publicly or on the QT, to anyone at Goldman Sachs or the other banks where she has spoken for a fee, who can provide copies of the transcripts. When it comes to bankers, money talks, and it’s a good likelihood that the embarrassing documents would magically appear if such a reward were on offer.

In any event it is clear that it’s time for the Sanders campaign to start playing hardball. Clinton and her increasingly desperate neoliberal backers in the leadership of the Democratic Party, are going to stop at nothing to try and derail Sanders, as his campaign continues to build and win more primaries. He is going to need to hit Clinton where it will really do the most damage, and that is on her lack of trustworthiness and integrity.

Of course, if he does that, and she still manages to win the nomination, it would be hard for Sanders to then turn around and support her in the general election, but that would be a good thing. In fact, it would be critical in accomplishing what Sanders claims is his real goal: creating a revolution in American politics. If he wins the nomination, then there really will be a kind of revolution, as the decades-long neoliberal death grip on the Democratic Party will be history. If he loses, and does not back Clinton’s candidacy, his movement will live beyond the election, perhaps in the form of a new genuine progressive labor party.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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