How can one tell when an issue has gotten under Hillary Clinton’s skin? She begins heaping scorn on those who question her on it. After trying for months to pose as more progressive on Wall Street than anyone else — and especially Bernie Sanders — she has had to defend the millions of dollars she and Bill received from Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions for a handful of paid speeches. When questioned about it during the most recent Democratic debate, Hillary claimed that they just wanted to hear her views on world affairs and promised that she talked tough on regulation. Chuck Todd said that Hillary had an easy way to prove it — just release the transcripts. Hillary tried wiggling out of the trap by saying she’d “look into it.”
By yesterday, Hillary had changed her tune. Now she wants a peek at everyone else’s before they get a peek at hers:
“Yes, you know, here’s another thing I want to say. Let everybody who’s ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release them. We’ll all release them at the same time,” Clinton stated. “You know, I don’t mind being the subject in Republican debates, the subject in the Democratic primary. That kind of goes with the territory. I’ve been around long enough.”
“But at some point, you know, these rules need to apply to everybody,” she continued. “And there are a bunch of folks, including, you know, my opponent, who’s given speeches to groups, and people on the other side who’ve given speeches to groups. Let’s — if this is now going to be a new standard, then it should apply to everybody and then I’ll be happy to look into it further.”
Sure, why not? Has Bernie Sanders given speeches to Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions, getting $250,000 a speech or more from Wall Street giants per appearance? Let’s see the transcripts of those speeches, too. However, this answer leaves Hillary in a potentially very embarrassing position when it turns out that Sanders hasn’t given speeches to those institutions and hasn’t enriched himself on Wall Street largesse. And if that’s the case, doesn’t this “show me yours and I’ll show you mine” pledge force her to cough up the transcripts?
Let’s not forget why those transcripts exist in the first place. McClatchy reminds readers that Hillary demanded sponsors of these events provide a transcriber at their expense, and that the product would remain in her control:
Hillary Clinton, who faces mounting pressure to release transcripts of her paid speeches, routinely demanded that a stenographer be present at her events so she could maintain a record of what she said.
At least four of Clinton’s contracts include a clause stating a transcript would be produced for Clinton and that the former secretary of state would own them and control their release, according to contracts obtained by McClatchy.
“The sponsor will transcribe Speaker’s remarks as they are being delivered, which should be solely for the Speaker’s records,” according to her contract with the University of Buffalo, which paid her $275,000.
Identical words appear in contracts between the Harry Walker Agency, which represents Clinton, and the University of Connecticut, which paid her $250,000; the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, which paid her $225,000, and the University of California at Los Angeles, which paid her $300,000.
For ’tis the sport to have the engineer hoist with his own petard. Why bother with transcripts at all? Strategically (but certainly not legally), this is reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s Oval Office tapes. Once they came to light, they’d have to be made public to corroborate the person’s public representations of events. Honestly, what possible value would these have had to Hillary at all that couldn’t have been accomplished by simply opening up the events to the press?
All of this defensiveness and evasiveness points to a strong desire to keep these remarks private. More than two years ago, Politico discovered why that might be:
Maybe this is why Clinton won't release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs? https://t.co/iBmex9TnPO
— David Sirota (@davidsirota) February 8, 2016
But Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish. Striking a soothing note on the global financial crisis, she told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it. What the bankers heard her to say was just what they would hope for from a prospective presidential candidate: Beating up the finance industry isn’t going to improve the economy—it needs to stop. And indeed Goldman’s Tim O’Neill, who heads the bank’s asset management business, introduced Clinton by saying how courageous she was for speaking at the bank. (Brave, perhaps, but also well-compensated: Clinton’s minimum fee for paid remarks is $200,000).
Certainly, Clinton offered the money men—and, yes, they are mostly men—at Goldman’s HQ a bit of a morale boost. “It was like, ‘Here’s someone who doesn’t want to vilify us but wants to get business back in the game,’” said an attendee. “Like, maybe here’s someone who can lead us out of the wilderness.”
Clinton’s remarks were hardly a sweeping absolution for the sins of Wall Street, whose leaders she courted assiduously for financial support over a decade, as a senator and a presidential candidate in 2008. But they did register as a repudiation of some of the angry anti-Wall Street rhetoric emanating from liberals rallying behind the likes of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). And perhaps even more than that, Clinton’s presence offered a glimpse to a future in which Wall Street might repair its frayed political relationships.
“Stop beating up Wall Street” is hardly Bernie Sanders-style progressivism. If Hillary actually did take that position in public, it would be “courageous,” as the Goldman exec told Politico in December 2013. The fact that she’s only saying it behind closed doors when getting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the so-called “fat cats” Hillary derides in public speaks to the very opposites of courage: moral cowardice and cynical corruption. Maybe it wasn’t particularly wise to keep transcripts of those qualities when on display, even in private.