What was your reaction when you heard FBI Director James Comey announce to the world that the Bureau would not be recommending that charges be filed against Hillary Clinton over her handling of emails while she was Secretary of State? Did you do a humorous spit take with your coffee like some modern day Danny Thomas? Were you frozen in place like Americans were on November 22, 1963? Did your jaw hit the floor with your tongue rolling out like a flabbergasted cartoon character?
Chances are you weren’t the least bit surprised that no charges were recommended. But what does that tell you about our political system?
That millions of Americans weren’t remotely caught off guard by the exculpation of Hillary Clinton is less a commentary about American attitudes than it is a clear indication of the all-pervasive criminality that is at the heart of America’s political ruling class. And the fact that such criminality is seen as par for the course demonstrates once again that the rule of law is more a rhetorical veneer than a juridical reality.
But consider further what the developments of recent days tell us both about the US and, perhaps even more importantly, the perception of the US internationally. For while Washington consistently wields as weapons political abstractions such as transparency, corruption, and freedom, it is unwilling to apply to itself those same cornerstones of America’s collective self-conception. Hypocrisy is perhaps not strong enough a word.
Not Even Hiding It Anymore…
Remember the good old days when corrupt politicians committed their crimes in smoke-filled rooms, making handshake deals in quiet corners of luxury hotel suites or over lobster at five star restaurants? Those things certainly still happen, but the transgressions, like all things, seem to have lost a bit of their classiness. It may not be the Plaza Hotel, but the Phoenix airport was no less a scene of wanton lawlessness and impropriety when former President, and soon to be First Gentleman, Bill Clinton met privately with Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
The meeting, which only came to light thanks to the work of local ABC15 morning anchor Christopher Sign, has been widely criticized by pundits and legal experts from both sides of the political spectrum. Naturally, questions about impropriety, and potential illegal tampering in a federal investigation, were immediately raised once the meeting was made public. Of course, nothing was done to alleviate any of those concerns, calling into question the very impartiality of the investigation.
But the larger story has to do with symbolic message being sent by the meeting. Specifically, there is one set of laws for American citizens, and an entirely different set of laws for political elites like the Clintons.
Moreover, there’s more to it than just criminality. There is the air of superiority which oozes from every action taken by the Clintons who have made hundreds of millions of dollars unscrupulously pandering to, and serving the interests of, the financial elite of Wall Street and the corporate oligarchy. That feeling of invincibility is what drives someone like Bill Clinton to demand that the FBI surrounding him at the Phoenix airport dictate to bystanders that there are to be “no photos, no pictures, no cell phones.” To make such a demand is to see oneself as above the law, above the First Amendment, above the plebs, as it were.
And this sort of behavior is what we’ve come to expect from the Clintons. Who can forget the seemingly endless rap sheet that the dynamic Democrat duo has earned over the decades? The Whitewater Scandal, in many ways a template for the Clinton email scandal, involved shady business practices and political insider dealing by the Clintons and their real estate developer cronies. And, like the email scandal, Whitewater was an example of the Clintons deliberately destroying records that likely implicate them in very serious crimes.
As the New York Times reported in 1992, “The Clintons and Mr. McDougal disagree about what happened to Whitewater’s records. Mr. McDougal says that at Mr. Clinton’s request they were delivered to the Governor’s mansion. The Clintons say many of them have disappeared. Many questions about the enterprise cannot be fully answered without the records.”
So it seems the Clintons have this nasty habit of committing crimes and then destroying the records of those crimes and claiming complete ignorance about what happened. For you and me, such a flimsy excuse would go over like a lead balloon, likely leading to jail time. For the Clintons, the controversy quietly fades away and slips down the memory hole.
And then of course there’s the mysterious death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, the man who filed three years of delinquent Whitewater corporate tax returns, and then was subsequently found dead a month later. While his death was officially ruled a suicide, the serendipitous development for the Clintons led to speculation that Foster was killed on the order of the Clintons in order to silence a potentially damning source of information about Clinton misdeeds.
Indeed, some claim that evidence exists that Foster was in fact murdered, including the statements from one of the lead prosecutors investigating the death, Miguel Rodriguez, who claims that photos showed a gunshot wound on Foster’s neck, a wound that was not mentioned in the official report. Whether true or not, the speculation about the Clintons’ involvement in a political assassination has only grown.
But of course there are so many more scandals it’s hard to keep count. From appointments of Clinton Foundation donors to key State Department positions in a sort of “pay for play” scheme, to the salaries paid to people like Hillary’s Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin who, while working for the State Department, also worked for Teneo, a consulting firm run by another close Clinton crony. And who could forget the Clinton Foundation and the myriad conflict of interest issues, lack of transparency, and outright criminality associated with it?
This article would go on for tens of thousands more words were it to chronicle all of Clinton’s scandals. But the true focus here is not even simply on Clinton crimes, but rather on the culture of corruption and lawlessness that exists unfettered in Washington; it is the endemic corruption that the Clintons represent, perhaps better than anyone.
Corruption and Malfeasance: As American as Apple Pie
It is difficult to encapsulate in a few short paragraphs the multi-layered forms of corruption that are embedded in the very fabric of America’s political culture. Perhaps it could be best separated into three distinct, though interrelated, categories: the open door, the closed door, and the revolving door.
The open door of corruption and criminality represents the kind of wrongdoing that takes place out in the open, in full view of the public, but which is treated as anything but criminal. Whether it be lying the US into wars of aggression – the Iraq War was based on lies about weapons of mass destruction, the war on Libya was sold on the pretext of lies about civilians being murdered by the government – or simply the obviously corrupt form of campaign financing that allows Wall Street and the corporate elites to bankroll the alleged “democracy” that the US so proudly proselytizes the world over; these forms of corruption and criminality are in many ways the bedrock of American politics.
As the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg famously stated, “To initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” By this very definition, every political leader in the US going back decades is guilty of war crimes.
Going further, one can draw on the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt who, in a now legendary speech at Madison Square Garden in 1936, unequivocally proclaimed:
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.
But today, rather than welcoming the hatred of Wall Street and the corporate oligarchy, America’s politicians pander to them, grovel before them, kiss their rings in hopes of securing for themselves a financially and professionally lucrative future. So deep is the rot that most Americans passively accept this as business as usual, failing to understand that it is anything but acceptable.
The closed door forms of criminality are often completely concealed from public view, and what does become known is only thanks to courageous actions by reporters and whistleblowers. Take for instance the activities of the CIA, only a fraction of which were exposed by the Church and Pike Committees, which included obviously criminal activities ranging from the overthrow of governments to assassination of political leaders to domestic spying and propaganda, all of which being blatantly illegal.
But the closed door also conceals the activities of prominent political figures such as Hillary Clinton, whose secret lobbying for things like right wing coup governments in Honduras, shows the degree to which politicians literally conspire in secret. Clinton, like so many of her colleagues, also grovels at the feet of Wall Street financiers, including taking massive payoffs for speeches with the tacit wink-wink-nudge-nudge that goes along with them.
Finally, the revolving door is one of the shining examples of America’s political corruption, or perhaps better put, complete subservience to the corporate oligarchy. When key government officials leave public life and head to that oft-lionized “private sector,” what they are actually providing is access – access to government for corporations and capital.
When the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) leaves her government post and takes a job as President of Merck & Co. Inc’s vaccine division, no one bats an eye.
When the architect of Obamacare, who before working on the health plan was an executive at one of the nation’s largest health insurance providers, leaves her government job and takes a position with Johnson & Johnson’s government affairs and policy group, it garners barely a passing comment.
When Wall Street executives take positions at head of the Treasury Department – Tim Geithner and Hank Paulson both worked for Goldman Sachs, as just one example – it is simply “the way things are.” This revolving door form of political corruption may not be anything new, but it is so rarely defined as corruption. But that’s exactly what it is.
However, none of this prevents Washington from publicly admonishing other countries for their corruption problems. Russia? Zimbabwe? Venezuela? China? Nigeria? All corrupt. United States? Well, er, ummm…Democracy! Freedom! This is the sort of reflexive hypocrisy that typifies American exceptionalism or, as the rest of the world might call it, the arrogance of empire.