Clinton Email Faux Scandal

“Sessions Considering Second Special Counsel To Investigate Republican Concerns, Letter Shows”

That’s the headline in a Washington Post article today, which begins:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

Uh-huh.  Here’s the letter:

Take note: the letter is NOT written by Sessions, but By Stephen Boyd, an Assistant Attorney General.

Some on the left think this shows Sessions inappropriately bending to political pressure, perhaps to save his job, from Trump and Republicans in Congress. The possible reigniting of a probe of Clinton is likely to draw especially fierce criticism, even as it is welcomed by Trump’s supporters.  It certainly was the BIG THING on Fox News last night.

But that is not what is going on.

As the letter points out, certain Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have requested (by letter) that Sessions look into dealings involving Hillary Clinton, the so-called “Uranium One” scandal in particular. (It’s a nothing-burger, as I explain here). It also wants a Comey investigation for how he handled the Clinton emails.

Sessions, wisely, has no intention of doing either investigation. There is no scandal involving the Uranium One deal. Same with Comey. Both investigations would, if they happened, involve going after one’s political enemies.

Many of the issues raised in the letter are silly, at least as starting points for a criminal investigation. For one thing, many of them are past the statute of limitations for federal crimes, which is generally five years.

Other things that are raised in the Congressional letter are not crimes at all, such as the FBI’s reliance on a dossier for leads in an investigation. It’s unclear why the DOJ would look into whether the FBI relied on a particular piece of evidence in an investigation.

It is also unusual for the FBI to reopen investigations that are closed, particularly without a very good reason to do so. The letters from Congress don’t provide any specific reasons to reopen FBI investigations into Uranium One, Clinton’s emails, and so on.

It is also unusual for DOJ (or the FBI) to investigate its own internal decision making processes absent evidence of wrongdoing. The letters from Congress do not even make specific allegations of wrongdoing by DOJ officials regarding immunity or charging decisions. They also provide no rationale regarding why a special counsel should be appointed. 28 CFR 600.1 limits appointment of a special counsel to cases that “would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances.”

Now, Sessions SHOULD have pointed all this out in his letter above. But he didn’t. Why not? Probably because he’s widely perceived in the Trump Administration as “not a team player” (he hasn’t locked up Hillary, etc). So he can’t shoot down these “investigations”.

But Sessions is going to testify before the House Judiciary Committee today, and these issues was definitely going to be raised.  So what was Sessions to do?

Answer: this letter, which is best understood not as a hint to Trump that Sessions will do as the President wants, but as a way of shunting the matter to a mechanism that will enable him not to act—or, to be more precise, that will enable Rod Rosenstein not to act.

“The Department has forwarded a copy of your letters to the IG so he can determine whether he should expand the scope of his investigation based on the information contained in those letters,” Boyd wrote. “Once the IG’s review is complete, the Department will assess what, if any, additional steps are necessary to address any issues identified by that review.”

Translation: “We’re looking at it and we’ll get back to you”

Better translation: “No investigation but we’ll make the motions”

UPDATE: At his hearing today, Sessions is disappointing the Radical Right a little:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw some cold water on the idea of appointing a special counsel to investigate various matters related to Hillary Clinton and Democrats, as some Republicans have called for.

At a House Judiciary hearing Tuesday, Sessions stressed the “factual basis” that must be met to warrant a special counsel, as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) grilled him on what Jordan said “looks like” the FBI working with Democrats to push the Trump-Russia dossier.

“‘Looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” Sessions said.

Jordan has led the charge of GOP lawmakers calling for a special counsel investigation to be launched in addition to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. On Monday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd responded to a request by House Judiciary Republicans for a new special counsel in a letter that said senior  Justice Department prosecutors would evaluate the matter.

Jordan grilled Sessions on various claims that the Obama-era FBI colluded with Democrats to elevate the dossier put together by ex-British spy Christopher Steele that made various Russian-related allegations about President Trump. Sessions would not say whether the dossier was used by the FBI to obtain warrants to surveil Trump associates, nor would he comment on any hypothetical investigation into Justice Department leaks to the media about the dossier.

Asked by Jordan what it would take to get a special counsel investigation into the dossier or various Clinton-related accusations, Sessions pointed to department policies on the procedure, as well as to the fact that there has only been two special counsel investigations.

“Each of those are pretty special factual situations, and we will use the proper standards, and that’s the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan” Sessions said. “You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel.”

The “Uranium One” Non-Scandal

Yawn:

In a news conference Tuesday, House Republicans announced that two panels — the House Intelligence Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — would jointly probe the Obama administration’s October 2010 approval of a deal that gave a Russian company control of more than 20 percent of this country’s uranium production capacity.

“It’s important we find out why that deal went through,” said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) in the news conference.

Why was King so interested in a deal that closed seven years ago? Because of the Hill. “The renewed interest in the so-called Uranium One deal came after The Hill reported last week that the FBI had gathered solid evidence that Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks as part of an effort to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States,” noted an early version of a Hill report on Tuesday’s press conference. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) last week announced the beginning of a similar investigation.

What set it off? An Oct. 17 article by the Hill’s John Solomon and Alison Spann managed to thrust the Uranium One story back into the spotlight.

It shed light on a juxtaposition: A Russian energy concern, Rosatom, sought control of a Canadian mining firm that would later take on the name Uranium One. Given the company’s holdings in the United States, the transaction required the approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multi-agency panel that included the State Department, which was headed by Hillary Clinton at the time. The New York Times pointed out in a complicated 2015 investigation: “As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation.” The deal was approved by the CFIUS and Russia secured control of a fifth of U.S. uranium production capacity.

Overlapping with the CFIUS review, noted Solomon and Spann, was a criminal investigation. “Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show,” reads their piece. As early as 2009, they reported, authorities gathered evidence that Vadim Mikerin — an official with Rosatom’s Tenex subsidiary — engaged in a series of illegal activities pertaining to the transportation of uranium in the United States. The alleged activity included extortion, bribery and kickbacks in dealings with transportation companies.

None of this was news. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, did extensivestories about the investigation into Mikerin. So the Hill performed an elaborate and creative repackaging exercise — marshaling already-known information into a newsy-sounding headline: “FBI uncovered Russian bribery plot before Obama administration approved controversial nuclear deal with Moscow.” It worked, at least as far as Fox News was concerned. The leading cable-news network lent a great deal of programming to the Hill piece, all rigged to engineer further suspicion of Clinton. In an interview with Hill Editor in Chief Bob Cusack last Thursday, Fox News host Jon Scott said, “Obviously your outlet has done some digging but it seems like a huge story that ought to be blared from the mountaintops and it has not gotten a lot of attention.”

Maybe that’s because mainstream outlets have smoked out the preposterous conspiracy-mongering in the Hill’s story. Over a few paragraphs, the story managed to suggest that the Justice Department, which successfully prosecuted Mikerin for his crimes, somehow sought to play down its achievements on this front — perhaps to suppress the news and prevent Clinton from suffering embarrassment over the Uranium One transaction (and it appears she was not personally involved).

Here is the astonishing passage from the Solomon-Spann story:

Bringing down a major Russian nuclear corruption scheme that had both compromised a sensitive uranium transportation asset inside the U.S. and facilitated international money laundering would seem a major feather in any law enforcement agency’s cap.

But the Justice Department and FBI took little credit in 2014 when Mikerin, the Russian financier and the trucking firm executives were arrested and charged.

The only public statement occurred a year later when the Justice Department put out a little-noticed press release in August 2015, just days before Labor Day. The release noted that the various defendants had reached plea deals.

Oh really! Pause for a second and ponder the illogic in the text here. The Hill is writing that the issuance of a press release counts as evidence that the Justice Department was taking “little credit” for its work. Wouldn’t the act of not issuing a press release be better evidence thereof? Or how about just not pursuing the case at all?

There’s a further problem with this radical conspiracy: There were three press releases on the Mikerin case — one covering the charges in the caseone covering the plea dealand one covering the sentencing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland published them; they were hosted on the site of the FBI’s Washington field office; and, as the Hill noted, Justice Department headquarters issued a release on the plea deals.

Does that sound like a federal law-enforcement apparatus bent on hiding something? Contacted about the press releases, The Hill issued this statement: “Despite the international implications of the Russian scheme, the Justice Department press office in Washington, DC and the FBI headquarters press office that deal with national reporters did not call attention to the case in 2014. Instead it was treated like one of the many local run of the mill prosecutions that come out of field offices on a daily basis. FBI confirmed to us it did not do a national press roll out in 2014.”

The Hill apparently didn’t give much weight to the Maryland releases: “There is a difference between a national press release blasted to the national press corp and the local press releases that escape Washington’s press corps.”

Said Cusack on Fox News: “Interestingly … when they got the conviction and pressed charges, they didn’t make a big deal of it.”

The Hill should be excited at the prospect that its odd suggestions might just bear out. After all, the suppression of news via multiple press releases would require a fancy dance of bureaucratic corruption. The logistics of such a plot, too, would ensnare tens if not hundreds of career law-enforcement officials. This could be huge.

The Hill report’s author, John Solomon, is notorious for hyping Republican-friendly stories, presented with a patina of investigative rigor, that ultimately fall apart.

The only other thing “new” is that there is a supposed FBI informant who was “gagged” from discussing what he knows (or heard) about the investigation of Russia and the Uranium One deal. The “gag” (actually, confidentiality is required of all FBI agents) has been lifted (Trump reportedly personally intervened in this to make sure it was lifted), and now he is going to start talking. What will he say?  Who knows? But his attorney is Victoria Toensing, a right-wing player who was last on the scene representing someone who had Benghazi information which was subsequently debunked.

Today’s credulousness is so frustrating because it’s a case of fool-me-twice: This deal, and the deal House Republicans are now investigating, are the same deal. Warmed over, picked apart, digested, and, of course, completely sideways to the conduct of the current government. 

The purpose of the propaganda has changed from defaming Hillary Clinton to blurring the truth about Russia’s subversion of the election, but the underlying content is the same. The facts of the matter are all out in the open, as are the ways and reasons the right manipulated those facts and has now returned to them a year later. But the press, once bitten, hasn’t yet learned to be shy.

The “Fake News” Is Coming From Inside The (White) House

I have avoided writing about the Seth Rich conspiracy theory being propped up by Fox. It was just too disgusting. But now it has political, rather than journalistic, implications.

Seth Rich was murdered in Washington, D.C. in July 2016 in what police describe as a botched robbery attempt.

But the conspiracy-lovin’ right-wing manipulation machine, sensing intrigue — he was MURDERED! — used his death to make the case that it was not Putin who leaked emails to Wikileaks — it was Seth Rich. Fox News and others (the type who spread the story that Hillary Clinton was running a child-sex-slave ring in a D.C. pizza joint) ate it up.

Naturally, this accusation upset the family of Seth Rich. Not only did they have to deal with his unsolved murder, but now he was basically being libeled as a turncoat, with not one shred of evidence.  Eventually, Fox News had to discredit and retract the story (except for Sean Hannity who said he’d just stop talking about it — for now — out of “respect” for the family).

Now there’s a lawsuit filed by a private detective, Rod Wheeler, who was hired to investigate the murder.  Wheeler alleges that Fox News worked with White House officials to push the case to undermine allegations of Russian collusion with Trump’s presidential campaign. Fox News used quotes from Rod Wheeler.  But Wheeler he claims he never said those things. He even has recordings with the Trump supporter, Ed Butkowski who paid him to investigate, where Butowsky acknowledges the quotes are fake. Butowsky is a frequent guest on Fox business programs.

According to the lawsuit, Wheeler and Butkowski met with Sean Spicer during the investigation, Spicer has confirmed this, contradicting what he said last May that he didn’t know anything about the story. Butowsky messaged Wheeler before their meeting with Spicer, “We have the full attention of the White House on this.” Butowsky also claimed in emails to Wheeler that he was keeping the president informed, and that Trump really wanted the story published.

Reflect on that. The President who rails against fake news wanted a fake news story published to deflect the Russian collusion story.

On Tuesday night, Butowsky went on CNN to yell at Chris Cuomo and defend his statements as “jokes.” Again, with the jokes. Like Trump’s speech approving of police brutality — that was a joke too. These people really need to work on their humor.

I’m sure the odds of Fox News colluding with the White House is total bunk and we could get a statement from Sean Hannity assuring us it’s just crazy talk, or “fake news.” Except, Sean is probably too busy having a secret dinner with Trump in the White House. Whatever do they talk about over the meatloaf?

Wheeler’s lawyers would like to depose Trump (fat chance it’ll happen), but Spicer and Butowsky clearly will have to be deposed under oath. Perhaps even Hannity.  Keep an eye on this.

The Very Uneventful 2016 Election

Yeah. I was in Europe for a couple of weeks.  They weren’t following the election as much as I thought they might have been.  And so I took a break from it too.  I can’t remember what was going on when I left, but it sure was big and sure isn’t a headline now.  I think it was about how Donald Trump had denied groping women and then a parade of them were coming forward saying how they were groped or kissed without consent.

Then there was, last Friday, another BOMBSHELL (the media’s word) which, at first blush, seemed like the FBI was going to look into more emails that they had discovered on Anthony Weiner’s shared computer with Huma Abedin (a Hillary Clinton aide).  In other words, it WAS a bombshell — a shell without a bomb.  On closer examination, it turned out to be just what it LOOKED like — nothing (at this point).  Apparently, if you can create a headline with the word “Clinton” and “email” in close proximity, that is enough to send the media into apoplectic fits, even if there is no actual email contents to report on.

I am reminded about what I heard last week, and heard again today.  Despite the crazy rollercoaster of news and constant scandals and non-scandals, this is STATISTICALLY a rather dull election.  Since the conventions, Hillary has been roughly 5 points ahead of Trump, give or take 5 points.  That means she has been close to even and sometimes has a double digit lead.  But Trump really has never held a secure lead…. not once.   In fact, while Hillary cannot get below 42%, Trump cannot get above it.

And it is worse when you switch from the popular vote to the electoral college.  Clinton has a thick blue line: all the New England states, NY, PA, DE, MD, VA, and DC.  And to that Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois, and the Pacific Coast (California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii) and you have a total of 249 SOLID BLUE electoral votes.  With only 270 needed.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

That’s how lopsided this thing is.  Hell, a win in Florida puts her on top.

But she has significant leads in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wisconsin.

At the end of the day, this is Clinton’s election.  And what you’re hearing now is a lot of wind and drama.  The Cook Political Report:

However, despite the recent tightening, Trump remains behind in the polls. And, his path to 270 electoral votes remains decidedly and almost impossibly narrow. Polling taken over the weekend suggests that voters are reacting to the FBI story in a typically partisan manner. Could it have an impact on enthusiasm? Perhaps. And, it also could get reluctant GOPers to show up to cast a vote for down ballot GOPers to give a “check” on Clinton. But, it hasn’t upended the normal pattern/trajectory of the campaign.

The most recent polls suggest that Trump’s best chances to flip a state Obama carried in 2012 are Iowa, Ohio and Florida. Even so, North Carolina — a state Romney carried in 2012 — is looking tougher and tougher for Trump. Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado also look out of reach. Without North Carolina or Pennsylvania, it is almost impossible for him to hit 270.

The Trump campaign remains hopeful that the Rust Belt — with its white, working class voters — will be their savior. The Trump campaign says they have polling showing a tight race in Michigan as does the Survey Monkey 50-state survey. All other polling taken in the state shows Clinton with a pretty healthy lead. Democrats aren’t panicking there either, suggesting they feel confident in the numbers they are seeing.

At the end of the day, the map may not look all that different from what we are used to seeing. But the margins of victory may be the more surprising. In blue states where the white working class vote is more significant — Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin — the Democratic share of the vote is likely to be smaller than we’ve seen in the last eight years. But, in red states that are more diverse — Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina — the GOP margin is likely to be narrower than we’ve seen in recent years.

***

Bottom Line: The race has tightened to its “natural resting place” with a 2-4 point lead for Clinton. However, the Electoral College math continues to favor Clinton. While she may lose Obama-held states in the Midwest like Ohio and Iowa, she’s been able to build up a pretty solid lead in states that Trump needs to win to hit 270 like Virginia and Pennsylvania. At the end of the day, voters are well-aware of the two less than ideal choices in front of them. They don’t trust Clinton. But, they don’t think that Trump has the temperament or judgment to be president. Baring any new or indictable information, it’s hard to believe that these new batch of emails will change this calculation.

Trump’s campaign managers seem to know that the math is not in their favor.  They are gambling on a “second tier” win — giving up on Pennsylvania, and buying ads in New Mexico and hitting Michigan hard.

“The Story Has Vastly Exceeded The Boundaries Of The Facts”

Kudos to the Washington Post editorial board for adopting some perspective on the Clinton email scandal(s).  To (finally) get to this point, WaPo relied on three piece of recent evidence.

The first is a memo from FBI Director James Comey to his staff saying that anyone who is second-guessing their decision to not recommend charging Clinton doesn’t know what they’re talking about. There are those who are implying corruption of the FBI in this matter and he is having none of that.

The second piece of evidence that surfaced yesterday came from an email exchange from Colin Powell to Hillary Clinton that was released by House Democrats. You might remember that Clinton had formerly said that Powell had advised her about using a private server and he had reacted rather defensively by saying that she was trying to pin this controversy on him. It turns out that Clinton was right. Here are some of the excerpts from Powell’s email:

“I didn’t have a BlackBerry. What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient.) So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers,” Powell, who served as secretary of state for four years under President George W. Bush, wrote in a January 2009 email to Clinton.

“I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders and some of the senior folks in the Department on their personal email accounts. I did the same thing on the road in hotels,” he added…

In his email to Clinton, Powell did warn her about the potential for her personal emails to become public.

“However, there is a real danger. If it is public that you have a BlackBerry and it it (sic) government and you are using it, government or not, to do business, it may become an official record and subject to the law,” he wrote. “Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.”

The third piece of evidence came in the form of the release by the FBI of the 30 Benghazi-related emails that were recovered during their investigation. Prior to their release, the existence of these emails had provided the merchants of doubt with fodder for the kinds of “questions” that fuel these so-called “scandals.” But upon their release, we learned that only one was previously undisclosed and it was an email from the then-ambassador to Brazil praising Clinton for her handling of the Benghazi attack and aftermath.

Those are the most recent facts that the editorial board of the Washington Post relied on to reach this conclusion:

Ms. Clinton is hardly blameless. She treated the public’s interest in sound record-keeping cavalierly. A small amount of classified material also moved across her private server. But it was not obviously marked as such, and there is still no evidence that national security was harmed. Ms. Clinton has also admitted that using the personal server was a mistake. The story has vastly exceeded the boundaries of the facts.

Imagine how history would judge today’s Americans if, looking back at this election, the record showed that voters empowered a dangerous man because of a minor email scandal. There is no equivalence between Ms. Clinton’s wrongs and Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for office.

Will this silence those who have already decided that Hillary Clinton is “crooked” and are determined to be the merchants of doubt regardless of the evidence?  Not at all.

But at least one major media publication has reviewed the facts and stated a conclusion. Soon the others will too, although I worry it will be long after the election is over.

P.S.  This is what a scandal looks like:

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Clinton Foundation Emails Show Praiseworthy Consideration Of Ethics

Twenty years ago, James Fallows wrote an essay for The Atlantic called “Why Americans Hate the Media.” Fallows’ thesis was illustrated today by the political media’s coverage of the release of emails associated with Hillary Clinton while secretary of state. His thesis was this: Instead of reporting the policy positions of candidates, and assessing their merits,…

The Clinton Foundation vs The Associated Press

Based on the frothy headlines, you might think the Clinton Foundation is some kind of illicit front company or sketchy offshore bank. Donald Trump wants to shut it down. The FBI has reportedly considered investigating it. A never-ending stream of once-private Hillary Clinton emails reveals donors to the foundation seeking special government favors when she was secretary of state.

In reality, the Clinton Foundation is a high-visibility charity that operates in Africa, Haiti and other downtrodden places and gets good marks for many of its programs. “Generally, they’re well respected and thought of as being effective,” says Chuck McLean, senior research fellow for GuideStar, which gathers and publishes data on nonprofits. “I haven’t heard anything like they’re squandering money or they’re ineffectual.”

Some charities draw criticism for spending too much donor money on salaries or perks for staff. The United Way once had a CEO convicted of fraud for essentially stealing the group’s money. Even the American Red Cross has been hammered for a lack of accountability over the use of $500 million donated to help Haiti after a devastating 2010 earthquake. Those sorts of allegations don’t generally surround the Clinton nonprofit, officially known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

The group’s main problem, rather, is the appearance that some wealthy donors, including corporations and foreign governments, give money to the foundation in the hope of getting favors from the U.S. government in return. And the only reason this is an issue is that, while Bill Clinton has been a private citizen since leaving the White House in 2001, his wife Hillary has been a high-ranking government official most of that time—first as a New York senator, then as America’s top diplomat. If she is elected president, donors to the Clinton Foundation could be construed as seeking influence with one of the most powerful people in the world.

It’s not unlike Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who also works for a non-profit.  Of course, she works for a non-profit conservative advocacy group, and not something like the Clinton Foundation.  You see, the Clinton Foundation isn’t really a foundation, but a public charity. Most foundations fund themselves through a large endowment, often created by a wealthy donor, which is how billionaire Bill Gates established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Clinton Foundation, by contrast, is funded by donations. And it spends most of the money it raises on its own programs, unlike foundations that mainly give grants to other nonprofits deemed worthy.

The Clinton Foundation has 10 different programs and a staff of nearly 500, with donations and other revenue totaling $178 million in 2014, the last year for which records are public. About 80% of spending goes toward charitable work. That’s a smaller portion than at the Carter Center, another nonprofit founded by a former president, which spends about 91% of its funds on programs. But it’s higher than at other charities.

One of the foundation’s 10 programs is the Clinton Global Initiative, which hosts an annual confab of glitterati in New York City each September. Other programs focus on reducing poverty, mitigating climate change, improving crop yields in Africa, rebuilding Haiti, and advancing the rights of girls and women around the world.

That sprawling portfolio may account for the wide range of Clinton Foundation donors and the impression among some that it’s a way for rich people everywhere to buy their way into the Clintons’ orbit. After refusing for several years, the foundation began to publish a list of its donors in 2009, when Hillary Clinton became secretary of state. Clinton vowed to dissociate herself from the foundation while at the State Department, but newly released emails show foundation officials occasionally asked Clinton’s office for favors on behalf of foundation donors. There’s no evidence Clinton herself granted any favors.

Let me repeat that: There’s no evidence Clinton herself granted any favors.

The controversy over influence peddling obviously overshadows some of the good work the Clinton Foundation does, which often takes place in parts of the world with no American media to provide a counternarrative. Laura Seay, a professor at Colby College in Maine, recently defended the foundation in a series of tweets describing field work she did in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2005 to 2007, when the Clinton Foundation helped fund treatments in war-torn areas for children who were HIV-positive. “I know teens & young adults who were kids then & are alive today because the Clinton Foundation saved their lives when no one else would,” she wrote.

But is there a controversy at all?  No, and here’s why.

The Associated Press has just shown us why it is important to be vigilant in how we consume the news as it is reported. They took some interesting information they gathered and spun it into something it wasn’t…scandalous. Here is their lead-in introduction:

More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money – either personally or through companies or groups – to the Clinton Foundation. It’s an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.

At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

Chris Cillizza is an example of a pundit who ran with it. In reference to that intro, he writes this:

It is literally impossible to look at those two paragraphs and not raise your eyebrows. Half of all of the nongovernmental people Clinton either met with or spoke to on the phone during her four years at the State Department were donors to the Clinton Foundation! HALF.

And those 85 people donated $156 million, which, according to my calculator, breaks down to an average contribution just north of $1.8 million. (Yes, I know that not everyone gave the same amount.)

It just plain looks bad. Really bad.

Now…let me pull a couple of other quotes from what he said.

No one is alleging that the Clinton Foundation didn’t (and doesn’t) do enormous amounts of good around the world…

To be clear: I have no evidence — none — that Clinton broke any law or did anything intentionally shady…

In other words, what it comes down to is “it just plain looks bad.” That is basically what most every drummed up “scandal” against Hillary Clinton comes down to: from the perspective of the people judging her – it looks bad. Welcome to the world of optics as scandal.

One way to look at this is that the AP spun the story they wanted to tell about this information. That happens almost all the time and we often don’t notice. To clarify how that happened here, note first of all the AP headline: “Many Donors to Clinton Foundation Met With Her at State.” As the Clinton response notes, that is not true:

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Yup.  Clinton Foundation has 7000 donors. Hillary met with 60 of them as Secretary of State.  That’s about 1%.

So the Associated Press spun the information in a way that got an awful lot of attention. The AP did something else to spin this tale:

The 154 did not include U.S. federal employees or foreign government representatives…

Clinton’s campaign said the AP analysis was flawed because it did not include in its calculations meetings with foreign diplomats or U.S. government officials, and the meetings AP examined covered only the first half of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

That is how they came up with the numbers to say, “More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money – either personally or through companies or groups – to the Clinton Foundation.”

But here is where the AP blew their story. In an attempt to provide an example of how this becomes an “optics” problem for Hillary Clinton, they focused much of the article on the fact that she met several times with Muhammad Yunus, a Clinton Foundation donor. In case you don’t recognize that name, he is an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as a way to fight poverty, and founded Grameen Bank. For those efforts, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

The connection the AP tries to make is that SoS Clinton met with Yunus because he was a Clinton Foundation donor. What they didn’t mention is that their relationship goes back over 30 years to the time Hillary (as first lady of Arkansas) heard about his work and brought him to her state to explore the possibility of implementing microfinance programs to assist the poor.

During the time that Clinton was Secretary of State, the government of Bangladesh was trying to discredit Yunus and remove him from leadership at Grameen Bank due to the fact that he was seen as a political threat. In case you think Clinton’s engagement on that presents and “optics” problem, consider this press release from then-Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry.

I am deeply concerned by efforts to remove Muhammad Yunus as managing director of the Grameen Bank. The international community will watch this situation closely, and I hope that both sides can reach a compromise that maintains Grameen Bank’s autonomy and effectiveness. Institutions like the Grameen Bank make a significant contribution to Bangladesh’s development and democracy and Professor Yunus’s life-long work to reduce poverty and empower women through microloans has deservedly received world-wide attention and respect.

Since those days, the whole fascination with microfinance as a way to combat poverty has waned a bit – mostly due to for-profit banks that abused the possibilities. But it is interesting to note that President Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham Soetero, was deeply involved in promoting microfinance in Indonesia. Clinton herself made that connection on the day she started work as President Obama’s Secretary of State.

We have, with President Obama, someone who believes in development and diplomacy. Coming to the State Department yesterday sent a very strong signal. A few of you may even know, as I mentioned in my testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee, that the President’s late mother was an expert in microfinance and worked in Indonesia. I have been involved in microfinance since 1983, when I first met Muhammad Yunus and had Muhammad come to see us in Arkansas so that we could use the lessons from the Grameen Bank in our own country. I was actually looking forward to being on a panel with the President’s mother in Beijing on microfinance.

One has to wonder why the AP chose this story of Clinton’s 30+ year relationship with a Nobel Peace Prize recipient committed to combating global poverty as the one to highlight in their efforts to suggest that the Secretary of State met with people because of their donations to the Clinton Foundation. It’s a classic flawed example.

Another bad example? Melinda Gates.  As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton met with Melinda Gates, who also happened to donate to the Clinton Foundation. The AP story suggests that Hillary Clinton met with Melinda Gates BECAUSE of the donation, but is there evidence of that?  Melinda Gates is a public health philanthropist, an expert in that field.  The issue of public health and dealing with aid to foreign nations is certainly something that the State Department DOES.

The State Department doing its job seems to clearly be the story of the time “Clinton also met in June 2011 with Nancy Mahon of the MAC AIDS, the charitable arm of MAC Cosmetics, which is owned by Estee Lauder.” Was the meeting about Mahon trying to swing a plumb internship for a family member? Nope! As the story concedes, “the meeting occurred before an announcement about a State Department partnership to raise money to finance AIDS education and prevention.”

So… where’s the beef?

I am not suggesting any nefarious motives on the part of the AP reporters. But as we see so often in the media, the facts must be paired with a narrative that gives them meaning. And the narrative, unfortunately, cannot be explained in a tweet, of even in an interview that only one news show might air.

So now we’re down to the final argument, which skirts the facts and relies on innuendo and says that donors get more than just a picture with a candidate; they get a chance to make their pitch for the policies they want pursued or blocked, a pitch the rest of us don’t get to make because we don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to contribute to campaigns.

And here, I agree.  But I add that Clinton is no better, and in fact, probably less guilty than most other politicians, particularly the ones you’ve never heard about whose political careers hang in the balance and they REALLY kiss the donor asses.  I’ll let Kevin Drum cross the finish line for me:

But it’s also something I can’t get too upset about. It’s not just that everyone does this. It’s not just that everyone in American politics does this. It’s the fact that everyone, everywhere, throughout all of human history has done this. It’s just the way human societies work. I’m all in favor of trying to reduce the influence of money on politics, but I doubt there’s any way to truly make much of a dent in it. And as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider it one of our nation’s biggest problems anyway.

So here are several possible takes on Hillary:

  1. Powerful people all run in the same circles. They all know each other. They all ask favors from one another. Hillary is part of this circle.
  2. People who are big party donors and big policy influencers have more access to politicians than, say, you or me. On this score, Hillary is a garden variety politician.
  3. Donating to the Clinton Foundation was a well-known requirement for getting a meeting with Hillary.

I’ve simply seen no evidence of #3, and that includes the AP’s strained effort yesterday.Besides, if this were truly well known, by now someone would have come forward to spill the beans.

As for #1 and #2, I don’t doubt that they’re as true of Hillary as they are of every other politician in the country. This might be an unfortunate state of affairs, but it’s certainly no scandal. So I remain confused. If you want to criticize the role of money in politics, that’s fine. If you want to criticize the outsize influence of the connected and powerful, that’s fine. If you want to criticize Hillary Clinton for being an ordinary part of this system—as Bernie Sanders did—that’s fine. (As long as you’re not also part of that same system, of course.) But is there some kind of special scandal associated with Hillary in the State Department? I sure don’t see it.

There’s no “it” to see.

Ugh! More Damn Emails!

I don’t care, but everyone else will:

The FBI uncovered nearly 15,000 more emails and materials sent to or from Hillary Clinton as part of the agency’s investigation into her use of private email at the State Department.

The documents were not among the 30,000 work-related emails turned over to the State Department by her attorneys in December 2014.

The State Department confirmed it has received “tens of thousands” of personal and work-related email materials — including the 14,900 emails found by the FBI — that it will review.

The number of emails provided by the FBI to the State Department for review is much higher than the “several thousand” that FBI Director James Comey said in July were uncovered as part of his agency’s investigation.

“We found those additional emails in a variety of ways,” Comey explained in July. “Some had been deleted over the years, and we found traces of them on devices that supported or were connected to the private e-mail domain. Others we found by reviewing the archived government e-mail accounts of people who had been government employees at the same time as Secretary Clinton … Still others we recovered from the laborious review of the millions of email fragments dumped into the slack space of the server decommissioned in 2013.”

Meanwhile, the State Department, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, released call logs of top Clinton aide Cheryl Mills, whose name has been attached to efforts to get a Clinton donor placed on a government intelligence advisory board.

One of the callers, Laura Graham, the COO for the Clinton Foundation, called Mills frequently, including several times a day in some cases.

“Urgent question as it relates to security and asks to speak with you bf you meet with the PM,” Graham said in a message on Feb. 8, 2012.

Regarding Mills, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “Again we have seen no evidence of any behavior, any relations with the Clinton Foundation that weren’t completely above board, and in this case it’s likely that what they were dealing with during many of these calls was the immediate aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.”

The State Department committed last week to publicly releasing the Clinton emails uncovered by the FBI as part of an existing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.

At a status hearing Monday before U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who is overseeing that case, the State Department presented a schedule for how it will release the emails found by the FBI.

The first group of 14,900 emails was ordered released, and a status hearing on Sept. 23 “will determine the release of the new emails and documents,” Boasberg said.

“As we have previously explained, the State Department voluntarily agreed to produce to Judicial Watch any emails sent or received by Secretary Clinton in her official capacity during her tenure as secretary of state which are contained within the material turned over by the FBI and which were not already processed for FOIA by the State Department,” Toner said in a statement issued Monday.

“We can confirm that the FBI material includes tens of thousands of nonrecord (meaning personal) and record materials that will have to be carefully appraised at State,” it read.

The FBI uncovered the documents as part of its investigation into Clinton’s use of private email at the State Department.

“State has not yet had the opportunity to complete a review of the documents to determine whether they are agency records or if they are duplicative of documents State has already produced through the Freedom of Information Act” said Toner, declining further comment.

“We are not sure what additional materials the Justice Department may have located, but if the State Department determines any of them to be work-related, then obviously we support those documents being released publicly as well,” said Brian Fallon, the press secretary for the Clinton campaign.

“As we have always said, Hillary Clinton provided the State Department with all the work-related emails she had in her possession in 2014,” he said.

At a July news conference announcing the FBI’s recommendation that no criminal charges be filed against Clinton, Comey disclosed that investigators found “several thousand work-related emails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014.”

Three of those several thousand emails were classified at the time they were sent or received, he said.

What’s in the emails?  Nothing, I suspect.  Or maybe JUST BARELY ENOUGH to call for more hearings or something.

The goal is the same as it was throughout the 1990s.  Tar Clinton with innuendo so you can paint her (or him) as “untrustworthy”.  Wait for them to make a stupid choice (like putting emails on a private server) or a legitimate choice (like take money from rich donors for charity) and make it look ABSOLUTELY 100 TIMES WORSE THAN IT IS, and then ask for a special prosecutor.

The interesting thing is that when you ask anybody what crime Clinton has committed, they don’t have an answer.  They just “know” that she lied and that she committed some crime.

For her part, Clinton is not worried.  As soon as this story came out, she sent out a press release basically saying, “Release them”, and last night on a late night talk show, she said the emails were probably boring.

We’ll see.  But I am sick of hearing about them.  Talk about beating a dead horse.

The Washington Post has looked into this, with a front page headline saying  “Emails reveal how foundation donors got access to Clinton, State Dept. aides.”

But the article is less sure that Clinton Foundation donors to gain special access to then-Secretary of State Clinton and her close aide Huma Abedin:

The emails show that. . .the donors did not always get what they wanted, particularly when they sought anything more than a meeting. But the exchanges. . .illustrate the way the Clintons’ international network of friends and donors was able to get access to Hillary Clinton and her inner circle during her tenure running the State Department.

This, I think, is a fair statement.  But you have to ask how this is different from anybody else in Washington.  You don’t think donors to John Doe’s campaign get some access to John Doe when he is in office?

The most prominent instance of access-seeking in the new emails involves the attempt by the Crown Prince of Bahrain to get a meeting with Secretary Clinton. When it didn’t happen, Doug Band, a Clinton Foundation official (and later, Huma Abedin’s employer at Teneo) intervened.

Here is what the Post says about this case:

In June 2009, Band emailed Abedin that the prince would be in Washington for two days and was seeking a meeting with Hillary Clinton. “Good friend of ours,” he added.

Abedin responded that the prince had already requested a meeting “through normal channels” but that Clinton had been hesitant to commit.

Two days later, Abedin followed up with Band to let him know that a meeting with the prince had been set. “If u see him, let him know. We have reached out thru official channels,” she wrote to Band.

This too is a fair account of the email exchange, which you can read here.

The Crown Prince is a major Clinton Foundation donor. According to Judicial Watch, which cites the Clinton Foundation’s webpage, in 2005 he committed to establishing the Crown Prince’s International Scholarship Program for the Clinton Global Initiative. By 2010, the program had contributed $32 million to CGI. The Kingdom of Bahrain reportedly gave between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

Do the emails show that the Crown Prince’s donor status got him a meeting with Clinton? Not exactly. Clinton might have met with him anyway, even without Band’s intervention. And according to Abedin, Clinton never said she wouldn’t meet the guy; she just wanted to put off the decision.

That’s it.  A big nothingburger.  But enough so that biased people can spin it.

Breaking: It’s A Perjury Trap

FBI Director James Comey is on the Hill right now testifying before the House.  He stated that he did not believe that Hillary Clinton lied to the FBI about her email server nor broke the law.

It’s what he was expected to say.

However, at one point, he was asked if Clinton lied to Congress when she testified (before the Benghazi committee) she did not send or receive emails that were marked classified.  Comey responded that the FBI was not charged to investigate that and they would need a referral from Congress to investigate that.  He was immediately told that one would be forthcoming.

I don’t think Clinton can be nailed on perjury even if what she testified was wrong.  There is a difference between saying something wrong, and knowingly lying to Congress.

But that’s not the point.  The point of these hearings is to keep the flame burning on this so-called scandal through November, if not beyond. New prosecutors, new committee probes, new conspiracies. A total of five congressional committees will either hold hearings with high-profile law enforcement officials over the next week or have already begun inquiries to the FBI about its investigation of the former secretary of State. There’s too much invested already, and too much ginned-up expectancy within the GOP base to see Clinton criminally charged, and frankly too much political value to let this end this week.

UPDATE:  House GOP indefinitely delays gun control votes.  Because priorities.