The Ethics of Hillary Clinton

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

“Money-grubber: a person who cares too much about getting money” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When I was growing up in eastern Montana, the term “money-grubber” was used sparingly but derisively by my father to apply to people who would routinely sacrifice ethics, morality and, occasionally, legality in pursuit of money. He was entitled to be critical. My father, like many of his generation, was a “boot-strapper.” He was the only child of a divorced mother who worked as a cook at various ranches and restaurants in the small towns surrounding Miles City. She had nothing – not even a wooden floor in her homes until she was well into her 50’s. My father worked as a “pearl diver” – dishwasher – during high school to help put food on the table. He became a bookkeeper after high school, married my mother and began a family. There was no opportunity for college. While I was in junior high school he began a home study program to become a certified public accountant. He passed the boards and became a CPA. When I was in high school, he began a similar program to become a lawyer. He passed the bar exam and became an attorney. And all the while he worked, he served his community as a city councilman and city attorney, he and my mother raised four children, and he sacrificed to provide the financial resources for each of us to attend college. And not once did he engage in anything that even suggested ethical, moral or legal lapses.

I say this not because my father was unique but rather because he was like most of his generation.

And that description stands in stark contrast to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) as she launches her campaign for the presidency.

President Bill Clinton (D) and Ms. Clinton were both graduates of the prestigious Yale Law School. Mr. Clinton went on to become a Rhodes Scholar. Mr. Clinton, from virtually the beginning, dreamed of becoming President of the United States and so returned to Arkansas to begin the long slog to the White House. From the time Mr. Clinton graduated from law school until the present day, he has never held a job in private enterprise. He married Ms. Clinton in 1975 and was elected Attorney General of Arkansas in 1976. During the time that Mr. Clinton served as attorney general and then governor of Arkansas his salary never exceeded $33,000.

In contrast, after Ms. Clinton graduated from law school, the once promising path from an Ivy League law degree to success grew very rocky. She was dismissed from the congressional committee investigating Watergate for unethical conduct. She failed the bar exam for Washington, D.C. With dim prospects ahead she took the alternative route and moved to Little Rock and moved in with Mr. Clinton. Shortly after Mr. Clinton became attorney general, Ms. Clinton was hired by the Rose Law Firm – the largest and most politically influential law firm in Arkansas. And in 1979, again shortly after Mr. Clinton became governor, Ms. Clinton became a partner in the Rose Law Firm. Ms. Clinton’s star began to shine so long as she was positioned as the path to Mr. Clinton.

During Mr. Clinton’s twelve years as governor, it became an accepted practice that those requiring government influence channeled their legal and lobbying work through the Rose Law Firm where Ms. Clinton soon rose to the position of managing partner. During the latter part of Mr. Clinton’s terms as governor, Ms. Clinton’s income from the Rose Law Firm increased to slightly over $100,000 per year excluding income that went into the firm’s retirement plan and the increase in Ms. Clinton’s equity position in the firm based on the amount of business that she was responsible for bringing into the firm. Ms. Clinton was not a particularly skillful lawyer but she was a rainmaker.

But even though the Clintons enjoyed a comfortable life in Little Rock (population under 160,000), their compatriots from Yale Law School were hitting their strides in the Washington, New York and Boston silk stocking law firms and earning multiples of the Clinton’s annual income. And as Mr. Clinton grew in national prominence, the Clintons began to “rub elbows” with the very rich and the very powerful of America. Their comfortable life in Little Rock made them “little fish” in the big pond of movers and shakers in America.

It was about this time that we first got a glimpse of the extraordinary means to which Ms. Clinton would go to increase their income. There was the Whitewater real estate investment in which they became partners with their friends Jim and Susan McDougal in a failed real estate development. Although the Clintons were never indicted the McDougals were indicted and convicted of criminal fraud. In addition Susan McDougal was held in contempt for her refusal to testify during the investigation of the Clintons. In the end Mr. Clinton pardoned Ms. McDougal for both the fraud and the contempt. (See how that works. It is good to be the king – or the President of the United States.)

And then there was Ms. Clinton’s infamous conversion of $1000 to $100,000 virtually overnight in series of commodity trades with the help of James Blair, then outside counsel for mega-giant Tyson Foods. Ms. Clinton was allowed to trade without the requisite cash necessary for commodity trades primarily because Mr. Blair used his influence with the commodities broker to allow the trades. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Blair stated:

’I was a very good customer,’ he said, noting he paid Bone $800,000 in commissions over the years. ‘They weren’t going to hassle me. If I brought them somebody, they weren’t going to hassle them.’”

The Washington Post article continued:

“Blair, who at the time was outside counsel to Tyson Foods Inc., Arkansas’ largest employer, says he was advising Clinton out of friendship, not to seek political gain for his state-regulated client. At the time of many of the trades, Bill Clinton was governor.”

After her “fabulous success” as a commodities trader one would expect that Ms. Clinton would continue to dabble in the market but with her $100,000 in hand, she cashed out and has never again ventured into that market.

But it is here that the Clintons learned a valuable lesson. They are both lawyers, and they recognized the difference between public corruption and conviction for public corruption. The latter requires a definitive quid pro quo – a trading of something of value for a specific governmental action. The general concept of “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” allows the corruptors and the corrupted to build an informal alliance recognizing one’s general need for something of value and the other’s needs for governmental intervention. In the end, that “specificity” requirement is what allowed the Clintons to escape prosecution for Whitewater. As the Clintons grew in prominence it also allowed them to capitalize on the needs of larger corruptors in exchange for large things of value. FOX News and elements of the printed mainstream media – the Washington Post and the New York Times – are exposing these instances as this column is being written.

And it requires evidence of that “quid pro quo.” In the case of public corruption, the persons privy to the agreement are equally guilty and, therefore, equally committed to silence. Without the testimony of one of the parties, prosecutors must rely on external evidence – letters, emails, text messages or other forms of recorded conversations. The Clintons are well aware of such requirements and thus the decision to use private emails and computer servers during the period of greatest exposure – Ms. Clinton’s time as Secretary of State. It also is the genesis of Ms. Clinton’s decision to not only erase all of her emails but to also “scrub” the servers to ensure that there is not recorded evidence left for discovery.

As Ms. Clinton’s publicists and defenders race to the microphones there is a common thread – “there is no evidence” of corruption. It is a lawyer’s term. It does not mean that there has not been public corruption but only that there is not sufficient evidence to establish an indictment or conviction. (That nicety escaped the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder when he indicted Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ); but then that indictment is probably more punishment for criticizing President Barack Obama than for actual provable corruption.)

In the end, neither of the Clintons will be indicted or convicted – not because they are not corrupt but rather because the evidence of provable corruption has been destroyed. Each time I see Ms. Clinton dismiss these accusations I am reminded of President Richard Nixon famously declaring “I am not a crook” when denying any involvement in the Watergate scandal. But instead of Mr. Nixon’s sweating brow, we are treated to Ms. Clinton’s smirk and “catch me if you can” wink.

Ms. Clinton may not be indictable as a crook but she is still a corrupt “money grubber.”