Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and the Goldman Sachs Thing

Anderson Cooper interviewing Hillary Clinton

Images courtesy of CNN

Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and the Goldman Sachs Thing

| published February 4, 2016 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor


Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has steadfastly refused to take the bait from reporters when asked his opinions on front-runner Hillary Clinton’s ongoing email and server controversies. Months ago he effectively ended the discussion during a debate in which he said famously and in his often-earthy language “enough with your damned emails.”

The American people want to talk and hear about the issues, Sanders has said. And despite a brief encounter just last week, only hours before Democrats in Iowa were going to the polls to caucus in the first major contest among the 2016 Presidential candidates—Sanders had responded to an interviewer by suggesting that the email fracas was a legitimate concern—he has avoided using Servergate as a blunt weapon with which to attack Clinton.

Republicans, meanwhile, use that now infamous private email account and its off-site homebrew server as a giant firing range target. Marco Rubio, for example, says Clinton is “disqualified” to be President based on her decision to use the private, unsecure email account to transmit sensitive data and, depending on who is defining the parameters, top secret and classified information.

But Sanders, who views his campaign as more of a crusade than a political campaign, has stuck to what he believes are the core issues impacting most Americans: income inequality and falling wages, a lack of fair access to higher education, greed at the highest levels of the banking and financial sectors, and an inextricable reach by the lobbyists of large corporations and Wall Street into the daily affairs of Washington, D.C.

For Sanders, the most useful blunt tool in his arsenal of hand-to-hand combat is not the damned emails, but the damned speaking fees and honorariums—hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and payments made to one or the other of the Clintons over the last decade, for a total of more than $30 million in income during that same period. Hillary Clinton was paid $675,000 by the Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs for just three short speeches in the period between her departure from the State Department and her official entry into the Democratic race for President.

Sanders says that Clinton’s hefty speaking fees and other corporate gifts should, at least in the minds of progressives and liberal Democrats, disqualify her as the genuine article, for that cash has made her beholden to a Wall Street mechanism which favors big banks, mortgage lenders and the sort of financial institution policies which not only fuel the factors of income inequality, but also infect Washington with undue levels of Big Money influence.

During a CNN-sponsored town hall event this week, moderator Anderson Cooper asked Clinton a direct question: had she used poor judgment in accepting those substantial fees from Goldman Sachs? Clinton was clearly uncomfortable with the question, but was also unwilling to shift the narrative—as she often does—by answering a question not asked. She also said she had done nothing unusual by the standards of either Goldman Sachs, or those of former cabinet level officials.

“I don’t know,” Clinton said, “that’s what they offered. Every Secretary of State that I know has done that.” Indeed, Clinton is correct on that point; almost every former U.S. Secretary of State has profited to some degree from speaking fees, consulting work, lucrative writing and book deals, gratuities for board memberships and advisory groups, and paid appearances at big events in the autumn of their respective post-Foggy Bottom careers.

Skirting the obvious kneejerk question posed by most parents to their children at various times in life (“but if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”), Cooper drilled down on the issue of appearances and ethics, especially in the context of her long anticipated run for President—a campaign which began for all practical purposes the moment she was chosen by then-President-elect Barack Obama to helm State. Hadn’t she for one minute considered the reasonable perception that such big gifts and fees would pose a conflict of interest as a candidate in 2016 or beyond?

Clinton said she was never certain that she would, in fact, run for President in 2016, and said there were many times she thought she would retire for good after her stint at the State Department. The thought of running again for President had not entered into her thinking. You could practically hear the groans in the room from those supporting Sanders, and even Cooper seemed unconvinced.

But Clinton burnished that explanation with what she regards as the more important point: she can’t be bought by outside interests, which is, by implication, what Sanders has suggested all along.

“But, you know, anybody who knows me who thinks they can influence me,” Clinton explained, “well…name anything they’ve influenced on me. Just name one thing. I’m out here every day saying I’m going to shut them down…I am going after them.”  Which seemed to imply that she would not be afraid to go after even those interests and those corporations which have given so lavishly to her franchise in the past, and that as President all such past arrangements and quid pro quos are null and void.
Anderson Cooper interviewing Bernie Saners

Sanders and his staff say not so fast. They point out that together the Clintons have raked in massive amounts of money most especially from Wall Street, big banks and large financial firms, many of whom played significant roles in triggering the mortgage meltdown and the Great Recession. The Sanders campaign used Clinton’s moment of discomfort during the forum to develop a press release and talking points explaining just how deeply Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms were involved in the market conditions which helped trigger the crash, and highlighting the occasions when Hillary Clinton took money in exchange for appearances.

Clinton’s awkward response to the question of what her critics complain has been a longstanding, cozy, even familial relationship with Wall Street exposes what may prove problematic for the former Secretary of State even long after she secures the Democratic Party’s nomination—assuming she is able to best Sanders by Super Tuesday, as her strategists suggest. Even with Sanders unavailable to ask those pesky questions, some Republicans are sure to bring it up.

The exceptions might include former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who received piles of campaign cash—all legal and by the book—from Goldman Sachs early last year just after the start of his own Presidential campaign, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz whose big win in Iowa seems to have finally shifted the GOP’s conversation away from front-runner Donald Trump, if only briefly. Cruz has his own issues with Goldman Sachs, namely an unsecured loan which Cruz received from Goldman Sachs in 2012—money that arrived to his family during a Senate campaign and which went unreported, a violation—albeit arguably minor—of election laws. Cruz also took a loan from Citibank. Cruz and his wife paid the money back, but the issue has repeatedly resurfaced, and remains part of Trump’s daily stump speech harangues against Cruz (that, and Cruz was born in Calgary, Canada, which Trump has said disqualifies Cruz from serving in the Oval Office).

According to the official paper trail, Cruz in fact reported the loans, but used what was the wrong paperwork and the wrong filing procedure. On the campaign trail, Trump has made the case that Goldman Sachs “owns” Cruz as a result of that money, and Cruz must be hiding something nefarious about his relationship to the Wall Street giant.

Cruz has admitted the mistake in reporting the loans, but shrugs it off as yesterday’s news and of little consequence to the current debate. Besides, Cruz says, at the time of that Goldman Sachs loan he was locked in a titanic Texas primary fight with his super-wealthy Republican opponent, David Dewhurst, a businessman who made his fortune in energy, oil, ranching, land, and investments. Dewhurst and his family were worth hundreds of millions at the time of that primary battle. Cruz, the state’s solicitor general at the time, won in that 2012 runoff against Dewhurst.

But Cruz has also indicated that he believes Trump is a hypocrite for talking trash about loans—secured, unsecured, or otherwise—and points to Trump’s own illustrious business habits of borrowing huge sums of money from big banks and Wall Street behemoths. Cruz has indicated that he feels no pangs about what he considers a minor mistake in not properly reporting the money, but considers Trump dishonest in the extreme for not revealing a checkered past when it comes to large loans for his real estate business ventures.

Trump, as it turns out, can hardly list any bank in greater New York from which he has not borrowed money, sometimes in the tens of millions. Trump’s multi-billion dollar empire was built in large part on loans for Trump’s substantial real estate ventures, purchases and hotels, and—according to business filings easily available online—some of those loans have never been paid back. Cruz also says that Trump, the King of Bankruptcy, is in no position to cast stones at people over loans. Citibank, to name one famous example, was more or less forced to take a huge stake in the ownership of the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City during its recent meltdown; Trump still owed about $550 million, and Citibank reluctantly allowed a restructuring package which left it holding the bag, as it were—a bag heavy on empty hotel rooms but devoid of actual cash.

Cruz has said he can at least be proud that his own loans were paid off, something Trump is only occasionally familiar with. With those loans paid in full, Cruz says, he owes nothing to Goldman Sachs, and his conscience is clear in that challenging Texas runoff election with Dewhurst and his millions.

Speaking in New Hampshire, Cruz even joked, saying “it’s a good thing I never had to run against a rich guy again.”

Meanwhile, some Democratic political analysts suggest that it is past time for front-runner Hillary Clinton to craft a reasonable and heartfelt explanation for those speaking fees received by way of Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street bankers. Impartial observers say that Sanders is certain to continue pounding Clinton on the issue of her perceived coziness with Wall Street and Big Finance. Clinton defeated Sanders in Iowa, but only by a scant handful of votes statewide. In some counties the difference between the two Democrats was only five or six votes, and at least six counties the vote came out as an exact tie (requiring a coin toss to determine the delegate count). Sanders and his campaign declared the near-tie a victory, though Clinton supporters say she still won it for the books.

Though Sanders maintains a healthy lead in New Hampshire, a state which neighbors his home state of Vermont, Clinton’s strategists say that she is certain to regain her footing when the campaign moves to Nevada and South Carolina.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Clinton-Sanders Iowa Tie: A Win for Clinton, A Win for Sanders; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; February 2, 2016.

New York Times Endorses Kasich, Clinton ; Thursday Review editors; Thursday Review; January 30, 2016.