As an owner of a small business I have been on both sides of requests for access similar to those at the center of the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State. Anytime my company needs to make contact with a company or highly placed individual, the first thing we do is ask ourselves who might know someone we could reference. It’s called “six degrees of separation” marketing, based on the John Guare play. People who want to work for my agency or sell it goods or services often invoke the name of a business friend to get in the door.
The success of using contacts to gain access doesn’t always work. When I needed to reach out to the Justice Department on a sensitive matter for a client about 10 years ago, I called the former campaign manager for a former Pennsylvania governor and a former prosecutor because I thought they would know whom at DOJ I really needed to contact. Didn’t help me one bit.
I’ve been on the other side of the conversation, too. To get a job interview at my firm, one of my very best employees of all time used the name of someone whom she had gotten through another contact—that’s three degrees of separation.
Virtually every month, someone on my staff gets requests from business friends to interview someone or consider contributing our time or money to a charity. I don’t have much to do with these matters any more, but occasionally I get an email asking me about a request or letting me know we said “no.”
So if I wanted to contact someone at the State Department and I knew someone at the Clinton Foundation, damn right I would call the Clinton Foundation. And if I’m at the State Department, damn right I’m going to turn down all these requests. Except maybe sometimes, I might propose a short meeting if it seemed appropriate, just as I would if it were the chair of General Motors or the executive director of the NAACP.
And if I were the person responsible for fielding requests, damn right, I would occasionally write a memo to my boss. It sure would be embarrassing if HRC met Bono at a party and didn’t know the State Department had turned down his request for high-level help to arrange a live link to the International Space Station for his concerts.
Thus, the key fact in the controversy over whether Clinton Foundation donors got access to and favors from the Clinton State Department is buried in the fifteenth paragraph of the Washington Post’s expose:
“State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Monday that there is ‘no clear sign’ donors received access for their contributions.”
The Washington Post article gives three examples of requests for access. In two cases, the answer was “no.” The third case was the Crown Prince of Bahrain, a country with which the United States has friendly relations. The Crown Prince also applied directly to the State Department. He participated in one Clinton Foundation event in 2005. In what way is setting up a meeting with the head of a foreign country that’s an ally corruption? Should a State Department turn down all requests for meetings from any organization in which a key executive has gone to college with the Secretary and Undersecretary? Worked for the same law firm? Served on the same board? Lived in the same town?
Corruption comes not in fielding these requests, but in approving a request for any reason other than its merits.
If there were any evidence—any slip of paper or veiled reference—of someone calling the Clinton Foundation and then winning a competitive contract with the State Department or getting their nephew a cushy job, the Washington Post would have published it. If a majority or even close to a majority of requests were granted, the Washington Post would have noted it and not had a “no” as the result of two out of the three case histories it detailed. That The New York Times article used the same Bahrain case history strongly suggests that there was nothing really problematic in the emails.
In other words, what the emails show incontrovertibly is that the system worked. Influential people tried to gain access to the Clinton State Department through the Clinton Foundation and none did, except in those instances that the Clinton State Department was going to say “yes” in any case to a meeting request.
As usual, the Clintons are under a much more careful scrutiny that has not been applied to others. No one has scrutinized the emails of the Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell State Departments. We swept the illegalities of the torture gulag the Bush-Cheney Administration created under the rug. No one wonders about the millions of emails the Bush-Cheney Administration destroyed.
Let’s compare. A few people may have been able to meet with State Department personnel because they had a contact with a nonprofit organization that does wonderful work around the world. High-level officers in an Administration concocted a series of lies to convince the United States to begin a war that turned into a quagmire and then engaged in barbaric acts that were illegal under U.S. and international law. Who do we go after?
Or how about this double standard: Do we investigate Benghazi or do we investigate the 13 separate attacks of U.S. embassies during the Bush-Cheney years in which 60 diplomatic officers died?
The most recent of these comparisons comes this week. The right-wing media is putting out false and scurrilous rumors that one candidate has serious health problems and the mainstream news media is correctly telling us that the rumors are baseless—using the experts and facts that right-wing enthusiasts always doubt because it goes against what they know in their hearts must be true. This candidate released a letter from her physician that gives her a clean bill of health, while discussing past medical problems; the letter takes the form and uses the language that virtually every other letter about a candidate’s health has ever employed. The one exception to this standard format for medical letters is the other candidate in this year’s race, who released a letter that sounded as if it were written by an ignoramus, not a physician. The letter said all tests were positive, which is generally a bad thing and asserted that the candidate would be the healthiest president ever, which a physician would never say unless he had personally examined all the others. And yet except for Rachel Maddow and a few other journalists, no one is questioning the authenticity or veracity of this letter. And no one has wondered about the true state of health of this overweight 70-year-old who professes to love unhealthy food and whose primary exercise is riding a golf cart.
A double standard for Hillary? I would say so.