Hillary Clinton had a chance to put to rest swirling questions about her paid speeches to groups such as Goldman Sachs during last week’s final debate before Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire. She pointedly refused to take it.
Here’s the key 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 will look into it” means, of course, no way, no how, not ever.
But why did Clinton respond that way?
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 past two weeks.
Assuming Clinton wasn’t simply surprised by Todd’s question, then she and her team had, at some point in the not-too-distant past, made the conscious choice not to release the speeches.
There will be a tendency, particularly among Republicans, to assume that Clinton’s unwillingness to release her speech transcripts is evidence that she was up to no good in those addresses, conveying some sort of secret information that she shouldn’t have been.
I struggle to imagine that someone as savvy and political — and politically savvy — as Clinton would do anything even close to that. She’s just too smart — and too cautious.
I generally take Clinton at her word when she describes what her speeches were about: 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 Todd on Thursday night.
That makes perfect sense to me; if you are paying several hundred thousand dollars to hear someone such as Clinton speak, what you generally want to hear is what it was like to be her in a variety of big or important moments. These speeches, I bet, are largely just a string of anecdotes by Clinton. “I remember when . . .” and “So I said to the president . . .” and the like.
Why not release them, then? Wouldn’t they reaffirm Clinton’s argument during the nomination 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 acknowledges her various friends and acquaintances at Goldman Sachs (and other Wall Street firms) and praises them for the work they are doing. “You guys get a bad rap but . . .”
Yes, it’s standard-issue small talk. But it could look really, really bad in the context of the campaign. Imagine a transcript of Clinton speaking to some big bank or investment firm, thanking a litany of people she’s “been friends with forever” and praising the broader enterprise for “all you do.”
In the hands of Sanders and his campaign team and supporters, that sort of thing could wind up being problematic for Clinton as she attempts, already clumsily, to cast herself as a true progressive fighter for the 99 percent against the 1 percent. It might even prove fatal to those attempts.
The key for Clinton to win — or, truthfully, fight to a draw — in this dispute over her alleged closeness to Wall Street is to preserve the idea that while she took the financiers’ money, she also told them hard truths about their business and why it needs to change.
“I was the one saying you’re going to wreck the economy because of these shenanigans with mortgages,” Clinton said in Thursday’s debate. “I called to end the carried-interest loophole that hedge fund managers enjoy. I proposed changes in CEO compensation.”
Anything that suggests she didn’t do that — or didn’t only do that — presents a major issue for her.
So, no speech transcripts. Not today, and my guess is not ever.