Hillary Clinton has struggled to answer questions about her ties to Wall Street, in general, and Goldman Sachs, in particular, since the beginning of her presidential campaign.
In a November debate, she memorably defended receiving donations from bankers by citing her efforts to help New York recover after 9/11. The explanation didn’t go over well.
At a town hall event broadcast by CNN on Wednesday, the best Clinton could come up with, when asked to justify taking $675,000 for three speeches to Goldman Sachs, was “that’s what they offered.”
The media have been so focused on these two points — campaign contributions and hefty speaking fees — that they’ve mostly forgotten to ask a seemingly obvious question: What did Clinton say when she addressed those bankers, anyway?
That changed during Thursday’s debate in Durham, N.H., when MSNBC moderator Chuck Todd asked Clinton whether she would be willing to release transcripts of her remarks. Actually, Todd simply relayed a question that had been submitted by a voter. It wasn’t even a media professional who thought to ask.
The only time this question has come up before, as far as I can tell, was when a reporter for the Intercept raised it on the rope line after a Clinton campaign event in Manchester, N.H., last month. Video of the exchange shows Clinton laughing and ignoring the inquiry, but the issue didn’t attract much attention afterward, even in the conservative press.
It’s getting plenty of attention now, though -- especially since Clinton offered another weak answer: “I will look into it. I don’t know the status, but I will certainly look into it.”
The ensuing coverage of the Goldman transcripts — suddenly everywhere — hasn’t been great for her.
Politico: Asked whether she would be willing to release the transcripts from her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and other organizations, Hillary Clinton dodged.
CBS News: Hillary Clinton isn't exactly promising to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to firms like Goldman Sachs, after taking heat on the issue from Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders.
Marketwatch: If you’re curious about what Hillary Clinton said to companies like Goldman Sachs in paid speeches, you may be about to find out. Emphasis on “may.” Asked at Thursday night’s Democratic debate if she would release those transcripts, the former secretary of state said, “I’ll look into it.”
CNBC: She stumbled again when asked if she would release transcripts of her speeches to Goldman and others, saying only that she would “look into it.” It’s hard to figure out how Clinton has not managed to come up with a better approach.
The transcript issue came up again at a Wall Street Journal breakfast event on Friday, according to a Bloomberg report. Clinton pollster Joel Benenson said — rather unconvincingly — “I don’t think voters are interested in the transcripts of her speeches.”
They are now, or will be soon, because the media are now interested. Sanders adviser Tad Devine summed up the new state of affairs perfectly in a post-debate interview on MSNBC:
DEVINE: My advice would be: Don’t look into it too long because it’s not going to go away until they come out, okay?
CHRIS MATTHEWS: So you’re going to push on that?
DEVINE: No, we’re not going to push on that.
MATTHEWS: You just said it’s not going to go away until you do it.
DEVINE: Not from me — from you, from the press.
Devine’s claim that the Sanders campaign won’t push for the transcripts’ release doesn’t seem believable, but he’s probably right that the media will dog Clinton on this. Sanders might not have to do much of anything.
Whether it’s Mitt Romney’s tax returns or Clinton's emails or Clinton's speech transcripts, “Why won’t Politician X release Document Y?” is a reliably compelling story line. Whenever a candidate seems reluctant to make something public — as Clinton seemed on Thursday night — journalists are instantly suspicious.
It sure looks like Clinton’s nagging Wall Street problem isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, MSNBC’s debate question just made it bigger.