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

Staying in Afghanistan Is a Recipe for More Terrorism

Global Opposition to U.S. Drone StrikesBarack Obama is daring the terrorists. He’s standing in their front yard. He’s calling them out.

Of course, that’s not how it’s reported. “U.S. ‘nowhere near’ decision to pull all troops out of Afghanistan,” was the understated Reuters headline. Under negotiation is an agreement keeping 8,000 to 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan “through 2024 and beyond.” Also on the table are night raids and drone strikes that Afghan President Hamid Karzai refuses to allow.

This is madness. “If the job is not done,” said the Russian ambassador to Kabul, “then several thousand troops…will not be able to do the job that 150,000 troops couldn’t do.”

The only thing worse than the hopelessness of this plan is the backwardness of it. In an effort to prevent terrorism, we are continuing the very thing that creates terrorism: our presence!

Al Qaeda “has been precise in telling America the reasons [it’s] waging war on us,” according to CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, who tracked Osama bin Laden from 1996 to 1999. “None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world.”

In his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, political scientist Robert Pape analyzed every known case of suicide bombers from 1980 to 2005. He found that “what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.” Specifically, he discovered that “al Qaeda is today less a product of Islamic fundamentalism than of a simple strategic goal: to compel the United States and its Western allies to withdraw combat forces from the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim countries.”

The Obama administration can’t pretend that it doesn’t know this fact. In 2004, the Pentagon concluded that “American direct involvement in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies. Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. [In] the eyes of the Muslim world, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.”

Firsthand accounts confirm these conclusions. British journalist Johann Hari interviewed former Islamic militants who had since rejected jihad. He probed them, in independent interviews, about what made them join the cause in the first place. “Every one of them said the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 — from Guantanamo to Iraq — made jihadism seem more like an accurate description of the world.” One of them put it this way: “You’d see Bush on the television building torture camps and bombing Muslims and you think — anything is justified to stop this. What are we meant to do, just stand still and let him cut our throats?”

New York Times reporter David Rohde saw this attitude up close when the Taliban held him hostage for seven months. Looking back on his captors, he remembered, “Commanders fixated on the deaths of Afghan, Iraqi and Palestinian civilians in military airstrikes, as well as the American detention of Muslim prisoners who had been held for years without being charged.”

BBC journalist Owen Bennett-Jones found the same reaction in his research on the drone strike that killed Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud earlier this year. “Although many Pakistanis were happy that Mehsud was no long threatening them,” Bennett-Jones reports, “their relief was outweighed by the thought that the US’s use of drones in Pakistan was an unacceptable breach of sovereignty and a national humiliation.” The result was “a wave of sympathy in the country” for Mehsud and his fellow terrorists.

“As I travelled around the Middle East during the Arab Spring,” writes Bennett-Jones in this week’s London Review of Books, “the word that most often cropped up in the slogans in various capitals was not ‘freedom’ – the one the Western media recognised and highlighted – but ‘dignity.'”

These are the sad facts of a desperate region. We do not condone their violence, but we must understand their motives.

American troops, night raids, and drone strikes in Afghanistan will only make it easier for terrorists and insurgents to recruit angry young men to fight and die for their cause. By extending the occupation into perpetuity, we are not stopping terrorism at the source, as President Obama would have us believe. We are multiplying their ranks. We are taunting and humiliating them. We are endangering our nation.

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

Quote of the Day: Desmond Tutu

On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers’ circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr Bush’s chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?

— Desmond Tutu (The Observer)

What to Read on Perry vs. Romney

Republican Front-Runners Mitt Romney, Rick Perry Come From Different Worlds — Philip Rucker

One was born into a privileged family in a tony Michigan suburb; the other, onto a flat expanse of West Texas dirt with no indoor plumbing. One spent his youth tooling around his father’s car factory; the other, selling Bibles door to door so he could afford to buy a car. One excelled at Harvard University, simultaneously earning law and business degrees and swiftly climbing the corporate ladder; the other, his hope of becoming a veterinarian dashed when he flunked organic chemistry at Texas A&M University, joined the Air Force.

Where Mitt Romney is obedient and cautious, Rick Perry is bombastic and spontaneous.

“It’s populist against patrician, it’s rural Texas steel against unflappable Romney coolness, conservative versus center-right establishment, Texas strength versus Romney’s imperturbability, Perry’s simplicity versus Romney’s flexibility.”

Romney is campaigning as a steady, capable grown-up who can fix anything that needs fixing; Perry, as a passionate, principled leader who can channel the ire of a frustrated electorate.

Romney represents both the party’s upper-crust establishment and the state — Massachusetts — that for so long has been the GOP’s boogeyman. Perry represents the angry grass roots that are giving the party new energy and he personifies the state — Texas — that for a generation has been the GOP’s soul.

Romney, a former consultant who founded a successful private-equity firm, seems at his best discussing the intricacies of how businesses grow.

It’s when Romney tries to relate to average folks or banter about trivial things that he can struggle.

It’s in relating to people that Perry seems most at ease. He routinely puts down elites.

Perry, Romney Offer Contrasting Approaches to Job Creation in GOP Race — Philip Rucker

Romney’s view of the economy is shaped by his time as a management consultant and venture capitalist. Perry’s frame of reference is his family’s cotton farm and his state’s oil and gas boom.

Despite both candidates’ focus on the economy, neither has offered more than standard Republican positions.

Romney talks more about his business career than his four years as governor of Massachusetts, when the state’s job-creation record was among the worst in the nation. The state did add jobs, about 1 percent, but it bested only Louisiana, devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and Michigan and Ohio, both beset by declines in manufacturing.

Although he is partially responsible for big success stories — for instance, the founding of Staples, the office supplies superstore — he also was involved in controversial decisions, including the laying off of hundreds of workers.

Just the (Tax) Facts: GOP Candidates Parade Terrible Tax Ideas — Citizens for Tax Justice

Perry [supports] the radical balanced budget amendment (BBA)…, [which] would tie the hands of lawmakers to react to changing economic conditions and force immediate catastrophic cuts to critical government programs like Social Security, food inspection, and housing. Although Perry is one of the BBA’s most outspoken advocates, all of the GOP presidential candidates have voiced their support for it in principle.

Romney did reject the claim that 47% of Americans pay no federal income taxes (a popular conservative talking point) when prompted by the moderator. Instead, Romney rightfully noted that every American feels that they are contributing “through the income tax or through other tax vehicles” and that he does not want “to raise taxes on the American people,” presumably even on those on low end who pay very little.

Although Romney signaled his intention to not raise taxes on the poor, his recently released economic plan provides insignificant token relief for lower income Americans and heavily favors tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

Fact Checking the Tea Party Debate: Republican Candidates Stumble on Tax Issues — Citizens for Tax Justice

Romney made misleading statements about President Barack Obama’s tax record, claiming that Obama “had raised taxes $500 billion.” What’s deceptive about this is that while Obama raised taxes by $500 billion dollars (mostly through the progressive tax included in the healthcare reform bill), he has simultaneously cut taxes overall by more than double that. Specifically, Obama cut taxes by $243 billion as part of the economic recovery act in 2009, $654 billion as part of the tax compromise he signed at the end of 2010, and is now proposing $240 billion in additional payroll tax cuts, to say nothing of his proposal to continue 81 percent  of the Bush tax cuts and other smaller tax cuts at a cost of an additional $3.5 trillion.

Romney expressed skepticism toward the [so-called Fair Tax (a proposed national sales tax)] saying that it would decrease taxes for the “very highest income folks” while increasing taxes for “middle income people.” An analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy confirms this point showing that a Fair Tax would primarily benefit the super-wealthy, while increasing the taxes paid by the bottom 80 percent by more than half.

While rejecting the radically regressive Fair Tax may seem like a logical move for any presidential candidate who wants to be taken seriously, Romney is actually bucking at least half of the Republican field (and most notably current front-runner Texas Governor Rick Perry) who have come out in favor of it.

Perry Struggles To Make His Foreign Policy All That Different From Obama’s — Benjy Sarlin

“I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don’t think so at this particular point in time,” Perry said…, calling for a transition to Afghan forces.

But the next day,…an unnamed adviser [said] that “a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending.” But the same adviser also mentioned that Perry might entertain using only 40,000 troops in Afghanistan — far below numbers either Obama or his generals have suggested is doable so far.

Previously he had been called out for condemning “military adventurism” while also urging Americans to “renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy wherever they are before they strike at home,” employing two loaded and contradictory phrases associated with the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

Mitt Romney [said,] “One lesson we’ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence.” He quickly followed up by indicating that he would first consult with generals on the ground before coming up with any timetable for withdrawal. Later that month, he criticized President Obama for planning to reduce troop numbers…

Romney simultaneously supported the Libya mission, criticized Obama’s “tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced” foreign policy, and offered no suggestion as to what he would have done instead as president. The next month he accused the White House of “mission creep and mission muddle” for expanding airstrikes beyond their stated goal of preventing civilian deaths, and quoted former Bush aide John Bolton warning that Obama was setting himself up for “massive strategic failure” by demanding Qaddafi’s removal. Qaddafi’s regime appears to be gone for good, a development that Romney celebrated with no reference to Obama’s policies.

As a general policy, Romney has consistently condemned Obama as a wuss on the world stage… Obama has heavily escalated the Afghanistan war, initiated a second military conflict in Libya, and ordered a raid into an allied nation’s territory to kill Osama Bin Laden…

Rick Perry’s Crotch Shot — William Saletan

Perry attacked the Massachusetts health care law signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney. Perry said the program showed “what will not work, and that is an individual mandate in this country.” People “don’t want a health care plan like what Governor Romney put in place in Massachusetts,” Perry concluded. “What they would like to see is the federal government get out of their business.”

Half an hour later, Perry defended a 2007 executive order in which he ordered girls to be vaccinated against HPV, a sexually transmitted virus.

Perry can’t continue to denounce mandatory health insurance while defending mandatory vaccinations for a sexually transmitted virus…

Perry’s Immigration Problem: Even Bigger Than It Looks — Byron York / David Frum

Start with the border fence. Perry opposes it. “Building a wall on the entire border is a preposterous idea,” he said recently in New Hampshire. “The only thing a wall would possibly accomplish is to help the ladder business.”

Perry opposes E-verify, which is a program requiring employers to check the legal status of new hires.

Then there is taxpayer-subsidized, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Perry signed the Texas Dream Act in 2001 making it the law in Texas. [He] still supports the measure

“I support a guest worker program that takes undocumented workers off the black market and legitimizes their economic contributions without providing them citizenship status,” Perry said in 2006. “A guest worker program that provides foreign workers with an ID removes the incentive for millions of people to illegally enter our country.”

By contrast,…Romney articulated something almost never said in a Republican primary: much, much, much more important than a fence or “boots on the ground” is tighter enforcement of labor laws inside the country.

Staying in Afghanistan Is a Recipe for More Terrorism

Barack Obama is daring the terrorists. He’s standing in their front yard. He’s calling them out.

Of course, that’s not how it’s reported. “US troops may stay in Afghanistan until 2024,” was the understated headline in The Telegraph. Under negotiation is an agreement keeping 25,000 American troops in Afghanistan a full decade after the current withdrawal deadline. Also on the table are military bases that the United States doesn’t want to give up…ever.

This is madness. “If the job is not done,” said the Russian ambassador to Kabul, “then several thousand troops…will not be able to do the job that 150,000 troops couldn’t do.”

The only thing worse than the hopelessness of this plan is the backwardness of it. In an effort to prevent terrorism, we are continuing the very thing that creates terrorism: our presence!   Continue reading “Staying in Afghanistan Is a Recipe for More Terrorism”