Letter to a Trump Supporter #8: Hillary Clinton’s Character

This is the eighth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

With two days left in this election season, I will dedicate my last two letters to the issue that has attracted the most attention in the race: the character of the candidates. Today, I will begin with Hillary Clinton.

My interlocutor sent me a series of “debate questions“ that Rush Limbaugh wanted to ask Secretary Clinton, along with a couple other conspiracy theories that are floating around the Internet.

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

Thanks for sending this list of questions. Obviously, I don’t know how Hillary Clinton would answer them, but I can tell you what I would say if I were her:

(1.) When you were Secretary of State, why did you let a Russian company purchase half of the United States uranium reserves?

The Secretary of State cannot veto foreign purchases of American companies. Only the President has that power.

The deal you’re referring to, I assume, is when the Russian company JSC Atomoredzoloto purchased Uranium One, a Canadian firm. Their U.S. reserves account for 20 percent of America’s uranium production capacity, not “half.”

If you’re worried that Russia will somehow use that uranium to build bombs, they can’t. They’re not allowed to export it. It stays here, and we continue to regulate it as before. That’s why nine government agencies and two independent regulatory agencies approved the deal.

(2.) How much money was donated by Russian companies to your Foundation?

How much money has Donald Trump made in Russia? I’ll answer yours when he answers mine. All he has to do is release his tax records like I’ve done

If you’re implying that Russian donations were bribes, you’ll be relieved to learn that my Foundation has been thoroughly investigated by the press, and there has been no evidence of corruption.

The Trump Foundation, in contrast, actually has engaged in corrupt behavior. Donald Trump used $250,000 from his Foundation for personal business disputes. They conveniently forgot to register with the State of New York, leading to an investigation by the Attorney General. And the Trump Organization is actively expanding into the Middle East, Ukraine, and…surprise, surprise: Russia.

Somehow no one ever asks Donald Trump about all the profits he’s planning to reap in Russia. All they care about is the money I raised to help sick kids in Africa.

Maybe that explains why Mr. Trump has professed his admiration for Vladimir Putin, why he hired a campaign manager who advised the top Putin ally in Ukraine, why his foreign policy advisor on Russia has spent a career working with their oil and gas companies, and why Mr. Putin’s media outlets are actively supporting Mr. Trump.

Given all those facts, maybe you can identify the author of this quote: “Russians make up a disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

You think it was me? Or maybe my husband? Or my daughter?

Nope. It was Donald Trump Jr.

(3.) When you worked for the State Department, how did you conduct Secret Classified business without using a secure email server?

Because I was careless. Out of tens of thousands of emails that the FBI investigated, they only found three with classification markers. They concluded that there’s no evidence that I intentionally mishandled the information.

In hindsight, it was a mistake to follow Colin Powell’s advice to use a private email account. I assume Donald Trump plans to thoroughly investigate Secretary Powell’s private emails if he is elected president.

(4.) What kind of assault weapons were you funneling through Benghazi to ISIS in Syria before Ambassador Stevens was murdered?

We didn’t funnel arms through Benghazi to ISIS. We funneled them through our ally Qatar to Libyan rebels to overthrow the murderous dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, the exact same strategy that Republican administrations have been using for decades. Perhaps you recall the Iran-Contra scandal orchestrated by Ronald Reagan?

But I digress. We eventually learned that Qatar was giving some of the arms to Islamic militants, and we urged them not to do so.

It’s basically impossible to prevent this from happening, though, since there are Islamic militants on both sides of most fights.

Either you work with them to defeat your enemies, or you retreat from the Middle East entirely. Donald Trump would face the exact same problem if he wanted to, in his words, “utterly destroy ISIS.”

(5.) When you left the White House after your husband’s last term as president, why did you steal $200,000 worth of furniture, China, and artwork that you were forced to return?

We didn’t steal anything. We returned some gifts when the National Park Service decided that they were gifts to the government, not to us, although they were donated during my husband’s administration.

(6.) When you were Secretary of State, why did you solicit contributions from foreign governments for the Clinton Foundation after you promised President Obama you would not?

I never made such a promise, and there’s no evidence that I solicited contributions from foreign governments while I was Secretary of State. The Foundation did receive foreign contributions at the time, but I was not involved.

(8.) Why do you and your husband claim to contribute millions of dollars to charity for a tax write-off when it goes to your family foundation that gives out less than 15% of the funds you collect, and you use the balance to support yourself tax-free?

Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t use my charity to “support myself.” So, you just made that up.

And my family foundation does not give “out less than 15% of the funds“ it collects. That’s a lie too.

You really want to talk about who runs their foundation better? Alright, you asked for it…

Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities based on financial health and accountability/transparency, gives the Clinton Foundation their highest rating. Charity Watch, a similar organization that uses an A-F scale, gives the Clinton Foundation an “A.” Guidestar, yet another nonprofit watchdog, awarded the Clinton Foundation with its “transparency seal.”

The Trump Foundation, on the other hand, doesn’t even qualify for such ratings. Why? Because, as Guidestar says, “the Trump Foundation’s approach would certainly not meet the standard of focused, proactive grant making.”

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Guidestar also says, “the Clinton family has — at least over the last several years — donated more money (and at a far higher proportion of their wealth) than the Trump family.”

(9.) Why are you unable to account for $6 billion of State Department funds that seem to have disappeared while you were Secretary of State?

We were not “unable to account for $6 billion.” The Inspector General found that the contract files were incomplete. He specifically wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post to clarify the misconception. None of the money is missing. Some of the paperwork was just inadequate, a problem that happens in every large organization in the world.

(10.) Why did you say you were broke when you left the White House, but you purchased a $2 million home, built an addition for the Secret Service, and charge the taxpayers of the United States rent in an amount equal to the entire mortgage?

I should not have said “dead broke.” That was a regrettable phrase, though not as offensive as when Donald Trump bragged about profiting from American families losing their homes in the last recession.

What I meant was that our liabilities exceeded our assets, meaning we were technically insolvent because we were deeply in debt. The only reason we got a mortgage was because the bank knew we would earn more income after we left the White House.

We have never charged the taxpayers any rent. That’s a ridiculous lie. On the contrary, the Secret Service offered to pay rent, as is customary in these situations, and we refused to take it.

(11.) How is it that your daughter, Chelsea, can afford to buy a $10.5 million apartment in New York City shortly after you left the White House?

Chelsea and her husband bought the apartment thirteen years after we left the White House, not “shortly after.” She has earned a six-figure salary at NBC News, as have George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna (at NBC News) and John McCain’s daughter Megan (at MSNBC and Fox News). But most of their $15 million net worth comes from her husband, who is a successful investment banker.

In other words, they didn’t get any of that money from us…unlike Donald Trump’s children, who are each worth about $150 million thanks to their father’s company.

(12.) Speaking of Chelsea, how is it that her first paying job, in her late 20s, was for more than the salary of the President of the United States? Was there a quid pro quo of any sort involved?

I’m glad you mentioned the salary of the President of the United States. The President earns $400,000. The average Fortune 500 CEO earns $16 million. Since Republicans are always complaining that public workers are overpaid, they should be very proud of the fact that our Presidents have been paid so little compared to their peers, despite managing an organization that is far larger than any Fortune 500 company.

But, to your point, if there was a quid pro quo, it wasn’t a very good one. Harvard’s media experts scoured all the major news reports and found that I received far more negative coverage than any of the other candidates, and Donald Trump’s coverage was unusually positive.

(13.) Why did you lose your law license? Why did your husband lose his?

I didn’t lose my law license. That’s a complete lie. I stopped practicing because I was busy being a U.S. Senator.

My husband’s law license was suspended for lying under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Of course, Donald Trump has also committed infidelity, and he has lied more than any other presidential candidate in modern history, according to expert fact-checkers.

(14.) Why did you lie to the American people about the terrorist attack in Benghazi but managed to tell the truth to your daughter the same night it happened?

I never lied to the American people about the terrorist attack in Benghazi. You can read the transcripts. I announced the attack that night. I did not confirm who perpetrated the attack. I speculated in an email to my daughter that it might be “an al Qaeda-like group,” but I didn’t have enough information to confirm that speculation to the public until later. This is standard protocol, as well as just being good sense and good morals not to accuse people without solid evidence.

(15.) Why were multiple commando teams given the order to “stand down” when the diplomatic compound was attacked in Benghazi?

There was no “stand down” order. The CIA annex, which was a mile away from the compound, told the security team to wait a half hour until they figured out who was attacking the compound. They didn’t want to accidentally get into a fight with friendly militia, which is a real possibility in these situations. They were not told to “stand down.” That’s a completely different kind of order, where they’re not on alert anymore. They were on alert, they just waited for confirmation that it was an enemy attack. It’s standard protocol.

And to be very clear: It was the CIA annex that made this call, not the White House or the State Department. Neither Barack Obama nor I had been alerted yet. When they did finally call us, we ordered them to do everything in their power to save the Ambassador and his team.

(16.) Why did you ignore pleas from Benghazi for more security? Why did you send Ambassador Chris Stevens into harm’s way?

Why did Ronald Reagan send 800 Marines into harm’s way in Lebanon in 1982? Why did he leave them there after militants bombed the embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people? Why did a Congressional investigation find that “very serious errors in judgment” led to the death of 241 Americans six months later?

Why did George W. Bush ignore multiple warnings that Osama bin Laden was going to attack the United States before 9/11?

And why didn’t Republicans investigate those mistakes as relentlessly as they have investigated Benghazi?

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House majority leader, gave one answer: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

If you actually want to know the facts, here they are:

First, we actually did make security improvements in the year before the attack.

Second, I didn’t send Ambassador Stevens to Benghazi. According to two former ambassadors, “In-country travel is solely at the discretion of the ambassador, and he did not need to seek Department of State approval.”

And third, the chief counsel of the Republican-led investigation committee said “nothing could have affected what occurred in Benghazi.” He told my counterpart Leon Panetta, the Defense Secretary at the time, “I think you ordered the right forces… I don’t disagree with the actions you took, the recommendations you made, and the decisions you directed.”

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I don’t think there’s any doubt that Hillary Clinton has made mistakes in her career. (Who hasn’t?) But the evidence points in a completely different direction than these lies and character attacks suggest.

That, of course, is how conspiracies get started. They begin with one little grain of truth, especially if it’s a grain of truth that upsets a lot of people, and then they draw ridiculous, false conclusions that people will believe because they want to believe it.

The trick is not to let our beliefs about a person get in the way of judging them fairly based on the facts.

Best regards,
Anthony

Wall Street’s Rap Sheet Tells a Harrowing Story

There’s a serial killer on the loose.

This heartless criminal is slaughtering nations left and right.

For two decades, it’s been feasting on unsuspecting governments.

With each victim, its power grows.

And now, it’s at our front door.

The first reported crime occurred in 1982. That was the year when Mexico defaulted on its debt. For over two decades, Mexico and its Latin American neighbors had been borrowing money from American banks to finance their growing economies. The 1960s was a good time to be a finance minister south of the Rio Grande. Governments were flush with cash from the economic boom, largely financed by loans. When inflation drove U.S. interest rates into the double digits, Latin American governments found themselves with whopping interest payments. By the 1980s, they simply stopped paying the bills. Lenders fled, and a massive financial crisis swept through the region.

But interest rates eventually came back down, and the lenders returned. Again banks like Goldman Sachs lent money to the Mexican government, and again investors panicked. In 1994, another financial crisis struck Mexico and — in a so-called “tequila effect” — spread to Brazil. This time, the American government stepped in. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who used to be the Co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs, engineered a $20 billion bailout that saved his old firm’s ass.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the “East Asian miracle” was lapping up the money that was spilling out of Latin America. Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan — the “Four Asian Tigers,” they were called — were industrializing faster than any country ever before, and Wall Street was more than happy to slake their thirst for investment funds with the cool liquid of debt. Until, of course, the bubble burst. In 1997, it became clear that investors had been too optimistic and asset prices had gone too high, especially in real estate. Lenders ran for the exits, and the local economies took a bloodbath.

When the “East Asian miracle” turned into the “East Asian crisis,” investors started to question all their foreign holdings, especially the loans they made to the Russian government. Just to be safe, they fled Russia too, leaving the Kremlin no choice but to default on much of its debt. The shockwave rippled all the way to Wall Street, where the mammoth hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management nearly crumbled from a bet gone bad. Their bankruptcy probably would have brought down the global economy, had the big American banks not stepped in and bailed them out.

These titans of Wall Street were hardly daunted by this near-death experience. First, they plowed their money into the American stock market and then, when that tanked at the turn of the century, into the American housing market. This too fell, and with it, the global economy.

But that was not all they bet their chips on. Led by Goldman Sachs yet again, the American banks spread their money across Europe — trading with hedge funds in Iceland, buying up mortgages in Spain, and yes, funding a widening budget deficit in Greece. When the bubbles burst, tax revenues plummeted, and governments started running out of money. Without central banks to buy their bonds, several countries ran the risk of defaulting on their debt. But the powers-that-be didn’t want that. They wanted the big banks to be repaid. So they took it out on the workers, slashing government spending and making the recession worse.

Only one culprit has been present at all of these crime scenes. It doesn’t take a detective to see that Wall Street has been duping naïve borrowers into excess debt time and time again, only to get away with it and strike again in a new location. In fact, after each conquest, the American banks found themselves bigger and more powerful, systematically demolishing the regulations that had prevented them from such predatory behavior since the 1930s.

In recent years, we have developed an unhealthy habit of blaming the borrower, but there are two parties in every financial contract — and the lender is almost always the more experienced, more sophisticated, and more powerful of the two.

For far too many years, we have allowed our banks to run roughshod over the world. And now, while our nation grinds through high unemployment and Europe suffers through worse, the Republicans have the inexplicable gall to nominate a Wall Street tycoon as their presidential candidate. To these thugs, I say: Leave us alone. Haunt us no more. Haven’t you done enough?

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

What to Read on Iran

Iran’s Ties to the Taliban — Mohsen Milani

Iran’s views of the Taliban have changed considerably since 2001. Iran did not recognize the Taliban government and considered them an ideological nemesis and a major security threat that was created by Pakistan’s ISI, with generous financial support from Saudi Arabia partly for the purpose of spreading Wahhabism and undermining Iran. When the Taliban were in power in the 1990s, Iran, along with India and Russia, provided significant support to the Northern Alliance, which was the principal opposition force to Taliban rule and eventually dislodged them. Iran also contributed to dismantling the Taliban regime and to establishing a new government in Kabul in 2001.

Ironically, the strategic interests of Tehran and Taliban have converged today, as each, independent of the other and for different reasons, oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and demand their immediate and unconditional withdrawal.

A Taliban-dominated government is clearly not in Iran’s long-term interests, since it would generate considerable tension and conflict between Iran and Afghanistan and would inevitably lead Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia, becoming dominant foreign powers in Afghanistan, which Tehran vehemently opposes. At the same time, Tehran has for many years maintained that political stability in Afghanistan can be achieved only if the government reflects the rich ethnic and sectarian diversity of Afghanistan itself. Iran, more than anything else, wants to see a stable and friendly government in Kabul. Tehran now seems convinced that without Taliban participation in the government, as a partner but not as the main force, stability would be unattainable.

Tehran has attempted in vain to convince Karzai to call for the withdrawal of Western troops. Tensions between the two neighbors are likely to increase if there is a new agreement between Washington and Kabul about establishing permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

Mousavian: Iran Is Ready to Negotiate…If — Semira Nikou

The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,…does not object to transparency because he already issued a fatwa in 1995 against weapons of mass destruction. But he is against discrimination, suspension [of uranium enrichment], and the deprivation of Iran’s rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

On the nuclear issue, the end state for the Iranians is full rights under the NPT, without discrimination over enrichment. Other countries enrich but do not face sanctions. The nuclear impasse will not be resolved as long as U.N. resolutions are enforced because they require Iran to indefinitely suspend enrichment and provide access to sites and scientists for an indefinite period. These conditions extend beyond the framework of NPT.

Iran views indefinite suspension as a way for the P5+1 (five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) to buy time for a long-term ban on Iran’s enrichment program and ultimately its discontinuation.

Iran and al-Qa’ida: Can the Charges Be Substantiated? — Flynt Leverett & Hillary Mann Leverett

[The] Iranians raised, almost immediately after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the problem of al-Qa’ida personnel trying to make their way from Afghanistan into Iran…

…Tehran documented its detention of literally hundreds of suspected al-Qa’ida operatives, repatriated as many of these detainees to their countries of origin as it could, and requested U.S. assistance in facilitating repatriations of detainees whose governments did not want to cooperate (a request the Bush Administration denied).

…Iranian officials acknowledged that a small group of al-Qa’ida figures had managed to avoid capture and enter Iranian territory, most likely through Sistan-Balochistan, in 2002. The Iranian government located and took some of these individuals into custody and said that others identified by the United States were either dead or not in Iran. At the beginning of May 2003, after Baghdad had fallen, Tehran offered to exchange the remaining al-Qa’ida figures in Iran for a small group of MEK commanders in Iraq, with the treatment of those repatriated to Iran monitored by the International Committee for the Red Cross and a commitment not to apply the death penalty to anyone prosecuted on their return. But the Bush Administration rejected any deal.

Of the six al-Qa’ida operatives sanctioned by the Treasury Department last week, only one is alleged to be physically present in Iran — and, by Treasury’s own account, he is there primarily to get al-Qa’ida prisoners out of Iranian jails. Moreover, the United States apparently has no hard evidence that the Iranian government is supportive of or even knowledgeable about the alleged al-Qa’ida network in the Islamic Republic.