Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign took a hard hit when news of the John Huang campaign finance scandal broke in October 1996. President Clinton managed to run out the clock and win the election, but, as John Fund writes in National Review, Hillary Clinton’s ability to stonewall her way past scandal in 2016 may be undermined by the ubiquity of the Internet and the power of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.
From National Review:
Clinton must also remember what happened exactly 20 years ago during her husband’s campaign for reelection… Bill Clinton had to run out the clock on a growing campaign-finance scandal that in the last month of the campaign changed the dynamics of what had been a complete cakewalk of a race. Clinton ended up winning by eight points over Bob Dole (49 percent to 41 percent, with Ross Perot taking 9 percent of the vote). But that loss was not nearly as bad as Republicans had feared. Six final pre-election polls had Clinton winning by anywhere from eleven to 16 points. The New York Times/CBS poll was the most off-base, showing Clinton beating Dole 53 to 35 percent. CNN’s final tracking poll had Clinton ahead by 16 points. The respected Pew Research Center issued a final poll showing Clinton ahead 52 percent to 38 percent, a 14-point lead almost double the actual results on Election Day.
Those bad numbers prompted political experts Michael Barone and Everett Ladd to call for an investigation into how the polling industry had bungled the numbers so badly. Bill Clinton had his own answer. He told journalist Elizabeth Drew after the election that negative coverage of the fundraising scandal involving DNC finance vice chairman John Huang allowed Republicans to keep Congress and tighten the 1996 election.
The sprawling fundraising scandal ultimately led to 22 guilty pleas on various violations of election laws. Among the Clinton fundraisers and friends who pleaded guilty were John Huang, Charlie Trie, James Riady, and Michael Brown, son of the late Clinton commerce secretary Ron Brown. But a lot was never learned, even after the revelations that Clinton had personally authorized offering donors Oval Office meetings and use of the Lincoln bedroom. A total of 120 participants in the fundraising scandal either fled the country, asserted their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, or otherwise avoided questioning. The stonewalling worked, just as Hillary Clinton hopes it will with the Clinton Foundation, her private e-mail server, and Benghazi.
But there is one change that might undermine the stone wall: The Internet is ubiquitous, as it was not in 1996. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told CNN on August 1, “We have quite a lot of material (from the DNC, the Clinton campaign, and the Clinton Foundation), so I think we will stagger it in different batches when we are ready to publish each batch.” Assange has told reporters he plans to detonate his e-mail bombs at key points during the campaign, such as just prior to each of the three presidential debates.
We already have extensive evidence that special-interest donors to the Clinton Foundation sought favors from a responsive State Department when Hillary Clinton was U.S. secretary of state. We know from Peter Schweitzer’s movie (and the book of the same name), Clinton Cash, that the State Department helped move along an infamous deal that granted the Russians control of more than 20 percent of the uranium production here in the United States. (Clinton Cash is available for free viewing online.) The company involved in acquiring the American uranium was a very large donor to — you guessed it — the Clinton Foundation.
What more could we learn from WikiLeaks in the weeks leading up to the November election? Just having the tip of the John Huang fundraising scandal surface before the 1996 election changed the dynamics of that race, reducing the size of Dole’s loss and altering the congressional outcome.
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