It is hard to have much sympathy for former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who, with his wife, gorged at the trough of donor Jonnie R. Williams Sr. The prosecution’s theory, however, raises some troubling issues — and supporters of Hillary Clinton should perk up.
The McDonnells’ scenario seems to be this: Mrs. McDonnell may have directly and repeatedly hit up Star Scientific’s CEO for money and gifts. However, there was no explicit quid pro quo (e.g. a state grant, a piece of legislation) promised, but Williams and Maureen McDonnell generally understood that one hand washes another. She in turn pushed her husband to make some calls and introductions for Williams. The governor did these (and appeared at a couple of events), aware of at least some of the gifts, but not understanding that there was a specific political favor owed to Williams. It was crass; it showed egregious judgment. But, the McDonnells’ theory goes, it was not illegal.
The prosecutors’ dilemma is obvious. The McDonnells’ conduct tiptoes awfully close to standard donor-pol behavior — the unseemly but not illegal business of doing things for those who’ve helped you, say, by giving a green-energy grant to a donor, or giving an unqualified big giver an ambassadorship. There has to be some dividing line between all that and criminality — or the jails would be very full in and around Washington.
How might this pan out for Hillary Clinton? Consider that she, her husband and her daughter are reaping the rewards via the Clinton Foundation. Bill and Hillary’s lucrative speaking appearances are paid for by a worldwide array of hedge fund moguls, financial titans, foreign institutions and the like. These are all big boys and girls, and they all understand all too well that Hillary Clinton might be the next president. Give a gift to the foundation. Pay an astronomical fee for a speech. Call it a down payment. If she is elected and gives any of these people jobs, makes a call to a Cabinet official, or approves a tax or spending proposal that benefits any of them, would she be engaging in criminal behavior? Until the McDonnell indictment, very few people (including me) would have thought so.
And if a spouse soliciting the funds is enough to tie in the elected official, isn’t every dime Bill Clinton receives subject to scrutiny and a potential link to later, criminal activity? I’m not sure where one stops — if the facts are as the McDonnells portray them. Consider also that after the 2008 campaign Hillary Clinton’s team reportedly kept a “hit list,” surely a convenient reminder of who was naughty and nice.
This entire McDonnell episode reminds us that simply avoiding criminal activity is not enough to preserve one’s reputation or earn the public’s trust. The McDonnells got essentially chump change in Beltway terms, a couple hundred thousand dollars. But Hillary and Bill have been raking in millions for years from people and groups whose identities we do not all know. Does that bother anyone?
At the time Hillary Clinton was appointed secretary of state, she and her husband agreed to disclosure of their foundation’s givers. (“The list — containing more than 200,000 donor names — shows the extent to which Bill Clinton relied on foreign governments, especially those of Middle Eastern oil states, to establish his foundation over the past decade. In many cases, those governments have national interests that have routinely come before the State Department and other U.S. government agencies.”) Would she facilitate meetings and welcome guests from these donors if elected? That is now dicey.
But what about since then and what about the monies Hillary Clinton herself has raked in? The media certainly have a different standard for Republicans, but it is hard to see — legal or not — how they won’t insist that the Clintons bear all. Then, shouldn’t those generous patrons go on a “watch list” for favors, posts, etc., if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency?
Now put aside the criminal aspect, which may evaporate depending upon the disposition of the McDonnells’ case. There is something more than a little distasteful (like McDonnell driving Williams’ Ferrari) in a future president and her husband raking in, between them, millions upon millions from foreign entities and from speeches hosted and awards given by the crowd that sounds like a who’s who in the left’s rogue gallery .
I’m agnostic on the validity of the criminal charges against the McDonnells. But if they stick, the new rules will have to apply to both parties, at all levels of government. And quite aside from that, if people are repulsed by the McDonnells’ small-time greed, do we think the millions that the Clintons’ backers bestowed on them are no big deal? I guess we will find out.