The former public face of Bill Clinton’s White House—and current host of ABC News’ This Week—George Stephanopoulos was floored as two prominent journalists and the Republican Speaker of the House from his Clinton days, Newt Gingrich, laid out for him just how bad the “Clinton Cash” book is for his old bosses.
During the show’s roundtable panel after Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer appeared on the show for a lengthy interview, Stephanopoulos teamed with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile in an attempt to discredit Schweizer. But it started with Stephanopoulos making a shocking admission: Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign wouldn’t send out any official surrogates or spokespeople to defend her on this scandal.
“Donna, I got to talk to you first—I know you’re close to the Clinton team—they did not want to put anybody out to talk about this book today even though we asked, and you just saw Peter Schweizer there,” Stephanopoulos said to Brazile. “What do you make of his allegations generally but also his specific allegation that he makes that there are undisclosed donations to the Clinton Foundation from foreign charities?”
Brazile admitted she doesn’t know what’s in the book. Yet, without having read it, she proceeded to drop a series of rhetorical attacks on Schweizer. She also offered the Clinton campaign advice on how to attempt to get past Clinton Cash.
“Well, George, I haven’t read the whole book—I’m sure it’s still being rewritten somewhere because the newspapers and other publications are already disputing some of the facts and the claims in his book,” Brazile said. “But there are more drippings in this book than juice or sauce and what the campaign needs to do—and they did it last week—is go ahead and respond to these allegations. They’re scurrilous. We’re going to see more of them as the campaign goes along but respond to them and continue to reach out to voters and ignore all of this background noise. That’s what they need to do.”
Stephanopoulos then turned to Gingrich.
“Mr. Speaker, I read that you thought these allegations are starting to reach some kind of critical mass around the foundation that could even force her out of the race?” he asked the former House Speaker.
Gingrich dropped bombs on Stephanopoulos in his response, suggesting he thinks criminal charges—at least an investigation—could be on the way.
“Look, this isn’t a political problem—this is a historical problem,” Gingrich said. “The Constitution of the United States says you cannot take money from foreign governments without explicit permission of the Congress. They wrote that in there because they knew the danger of corrupting our system by foreign money is enormous.
“You had a sitting Secretary of State who radically increased his speech fees and there is a whole series of dots on the wall now where people gave millions of dollars who oh, by the way, happened to get taken care of by the State Department. You raised a good standard.
“And of course, having been on the Watergate Committee, she knew exactly what to do. She erased 33,000 emails. Richard Nixon only erased 18 minutes. So you’re going to have a prima facie case that any jury would look at…”
Stephanopoulos was floored. “You think a jury would look at the case based on—“ he interjected before Gingrich talked back over him.
“I think a jury would look at the totality of this case and say it is clearly against the Constitution,” Gingrich said. “It’s clearly against U.S. law. DoD and [DoS] both have rules saying you can’t take more than $315.”
Brazile jumped in at that point to try to help Stephanopoulos bail out the Clintons.
“It’s a global foundation and they released all of their donors, something that—“ Brazile said, before Stephanopoulos corrected her. “Not all of them, some of them we found out this week,” Stephanopoulos corrected Brazile. “In the aggregate they didn’t, but it was the funding that—“
Gingrich had had enough. “They skipped three years [of filings]—they just found out they skipped three years,” Gingrich said, referring to incomplete tax filings by the Clinton Foundation.
“Look, they’re amending those documents, there’s no legal requirement to do so but—“ Brazile jumped back in.
“A foundation controlled by your husband is the same as money to you—it is clear in federal law,” Gingrich cut across them again. “If it wasn’t Hillary Clinton it would—“
Brazile cut him off again. “The only reason why we’re having this conversation is because they [the Clintons] released a list of their donors [to the foundation], something we don’t get from any of the Republicans for their PACs or foundations,” Brazile said.
Stephanopoulos turned next to Bloomberg Politics’ Mark Halperin, asking him how serious this is.
“The Clinton Foundation does great work and some of the charges against her are overstated, that’s on one side of the ledger,” Halperin said. “On the other side of the ledger, this is extraordinarily serious. Imagine if an assistant Secretary of State had done what Hillary Clinton—what we know that they [the Clintons] did. They’d be out of the State Department.”
Stephanopoulos followed up with Halperin, asking pointed questions as if he were acting as both Clinton’s media defense man and ABC’s This Week host. “Which things?” he asked.
“Commingling the family foundation, donations from foreign governments, increased speech fees and government actions,” Halperin said. “We don’t know about—“ Stephanopoulos was incensed. “We have no evidence of government action,” he cut across Halperin.
“Well there were government actions taken,” Halperin corrected Stephanopoulos. “What we don’t know, and this goes to the emails, is what kind of communication did Hillary Clinton have on her private email account regarding her husband’s speeches and regarding the foundation’s activities that involved foreign donations?
“If they hadn’t been so careless at the foundation, if she hadn’t deleted the emails and they put somebody out on the show today to answer the questions, I think a lot of this could be put to rest. But none of those things are true.”
Bloomberg’s John Heilemann piled on the response to the Stephanopoulos-Brazile defense of Clinton.
“That specific question that arises, which is: Are emails that revolved around these issues—your husband’s foundation work—did those fall under what you considered private emails and personal emails and therefore were flushed down the drain? Or were they part of the public record?
“That is a question that has not been addressed, and she should answer that question, I think, because it goes to the core of whether there was the appearance of an obstruction of justice activity on her part by getting rid of that email server,” Heilemann said.
Brazile, the Democratic strategist, lost control. “This is just more trying to look under the curtain to see if there’s any there there,” she said. “Again, I think they’ve been very forthcoming listing their donors and showing the aggregate amount and as Mark said doing good work. But this is just more ‘is there a there there?’ to see if there is some connection.”
After some more crosstalk between Brazile and Stephanopoulos about whether the Clintons should have sent someone out the Sunday shows like this one to defend themselves—they both agreed the Clintons should have—Gingrich piped up again.
“I think there’s a very simple case here—the Constitution says you can’t take this stuff, we have federal laws that say you can’t take this stuff,” Gingrich said. “If this was any person but Hillary Clinton, they’d be under indictment right now for a clearly straightforward problem.”
After Stephanopoulos and Brazile interrupted Gingrich for a second, the former Speaker moved forward with his point again.
“My point is they took money from foreign governments while she was Secretary of State—that is clearly illegal,” Gingrich said. “This is not about politics. It’s illegal. It’s dangerous to America to have foreign governments get in the habit of bribing people who happen to be the husband of the Secretary of State or next president of the United States.”
Halperin then stuck the knife in.
“Here’s why you know this is serious, because almost any Democrat who’s not Clintons’ payroll will tell reporters and others privately that these are serious issues,” he said. “Forget the politics. These are serious issues. The question for me right now is all these donors who gained and all these people who paid President Clinton to give speeches, what kind of communications did they have with people in the government? That may not be a quid pro quo, but everybody knows that a lot of those donations were from people who wanted access to the Clintons.”
And Heilemann twisted it.
“We have examples now where Barack Obama’s administration knew this was a potential problem,” he said. “That’s why they set up the agreement they had with the family—the agreement they had with Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton when she took the job as Secretary of State. There are now several that we know of at this moment—several documented instances—where whether or not it’s illegal they broke their agreement with the administration.
“When you think about the president having the standard of being the most transparent and open administration in history, what the Clintons have done here clearly is not the most transparent and open. I think that whether it’s illegal or not, they violated the spirit of Barack Obama’s presidency.”