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Why Hillary Clinton won’t release transcripts of her paid Goldman Sachs speeches

Hillary Clinton. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Hillary Clinton had a chance to put to rest swirling questions about her paid speeches to groups like Goldman Sachs during Thursday night's debate in New Hampshire. She didn't take it.

Here's the exchange between Clinton and moderator Chuck Todd.

TODD: Are you willing to release the transcripts of all your paid speeches? We do know through reporting that there were transcription services for all of those paid speeches. In full disclosure, would you release all of them?
CLINTON: I will look into it. I don't know the status, but I will certainly look into it. But, I can only repeat what is the fact that I spoke to a lot of different groups with a lot of different constituents, a lot of different kinds of members about issues that had to do with world affairs. I probably described more times than I can remember how stressful it was advising the president about going after Bin Laden.

"I will look into it" means, of course, no way in hell. But, why was that Clinton's response?

There's the possibility — though I think it's very remote — that Clinton simply wasn't expecting the question and didn't want to commit to anything in the moment. I say I think that's unlikely because Clinton is a) always very, very well prepared for debates and b) Bernie Sanders has been hitting Clinton on her paid speech to Goldman Sachs for much of the last two weeks of the campaign.

Assuming Clinton wasn't simply taken by surprise by Todd's question, then she and her team had, at some point in the not-too-distant past, made the decision to not release the speeches.

There will be a tendency — particularly among Republicans — to assume Clinton's unwillingness to release her speech transcripts is evidence that she was up to no good in these addresses, conveying some sort of secret information that she shouldn't have been conveying.

I struggle to imagine that someone as savvy and political — and politically savvy — as Clinton would do anything even close to what some Republicans are imagining.  She's just too smart for that — and too cautious.

I generally take Clinton at her word when she describes what the nature of her speeches were: Recounting high profile events and her role in them. "I probably described more times than I can remember how stressful it was advising the president about going after Bin Laden," she told Chuck on Thursday night.

That makes perfect sense to me; if you are paying several hundred thousand dollars to hear someone like Clinton speak, what you generally want to hear is what it was like to be her in a variety of big/important moments. These speeches, I bet, are largely just a string of anecdotes by Clinton.

Why not release them then — since they would likely reaffirm Clinton's argument in the race that she has been there and done that at the highest level of national and international diplomacy? My guess is that in the speeches, Clinton likely acknowledges her various friends and acquaintances at Goldman Sachs (and other Wall Street firms) and praises them for the work they are doing.

Yes, it's standard small talk. But it could look really, really bad in the context of the current campaign. Imagine a transcript of Clinton speaking to some big bank or investment firm where she thanks a litany of people she's "been friends with forever" and then praises the broader enterprise for "all you do."

In the hands of Sanders and his campaign team/supporters, that sort of thing could wind up being very problematic to Clinton's attempts — already somewhat clumsy — to cast herself as a true progressive fighter for the 99 percent against the 1 percent. It might even prove deadly to those attempts.

So, no speech transcripts. Not today and my guess is not ever.