Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is feeling the heat from Democratic rival Bernie Sanders and conservative Republican groups about her long-standing ties to Wall Street and the millions of dollars that she and her husband have received in speaking fees from big banks.
But on the eve of the crucial South Carolina Democratic primary, Clinton is doubling down on her refusal to release transcripts of the scores of speeches she has delivered to financial groups behind closed doors unless Donald Trump and the other Republican presidential candidates do the same.
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“Let’s get everybody out on the same field,” Clinton said in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Friday. “I feel like, I don’t mind being responsive, I don’t mind answering questions, but at some point I want everybody to have to answer.”
Clinton argued that her public record in dealing with Wall Street – including what she described as early warnings in late 2007 of a looming financial crisis and her subsequent support of the Dodd-Frank strictures designed to avoid a repeat of government bank bailouts deemed “too big to fail” – was far more important than what she might have said in a speech to a banking group.
The former New York senator devoted much of 2013 and 2014 to delivering paid speeches to a variety of corporations and trade organizations, including Goldman Sachs, UBS and some of the country’s other largest banks and financial institutions. She personally earned $11 million during that period for giving 50 speeches to banks and other industry groups.
Sanders and other critics say the public is entitled to know what she said in those speeches in private, to see whether they square with her current get-tough-with-Wall Street rhetoric and promises to rein in the worst excesses that might lead to another financial crisis.
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“People who want to know about my public record, it’s there to see,” Clinton said in the interview. “People who want to know what I will do as president [can see]. Everybody says who have looked at it I have the best plan to rein in Wall Street to prevent them from ever doing what they did to us before. I want to move towards a level playing field. So, as I’ve said, I’m happy to do it [release transcripts of her private speeches] when everybody, including Republicans, does it.”
Clinton is leading Sanders in the polls in South Carolina by as much as 50 points and she is likely to do well next week with strong support from African Americans in other southern states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee.
However, she once again finds herself in the uncomfortable positions of trying to hide documents that her foes are eager to expose and exploit for political gain. Throughout her yearlong campaign, Clinton and her lawyers have tangled with House GOP leaders, the inspector generals of the State Department and intelligence committee, the FBI and the courts to minimize the release of sensitive government emails that had been carefully controlled by Clinton on a private server while she was secretary of state.
On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled in a civil suit that State Department officials and top aides to Clinton should be questioned under oath about whether they intentionally sought to circumvent federal open records laws by using or allowing the use of a private email server throughout Clinton’s four years as secretary of state between 2009 and 20013, as The Washington Post first reported. It is possible that Clinton will be called to testify before that suit brought by the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is resolved.
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Now there is the matter of Clinton’s closed-door speeches to Wall Street and whether she should allow the public to see what she said to bankers before the election.
“The real question underneath this is, ‘Okay, you took money from Wall Street, can you regulate Wall Street?’” Clinton told MSNBC. “Well, Barack Obama took more money from Wall Street than any candidate who has ever run for president, then turned around and passed the Dodd-Frank bill. So, I think you should be judged on what you’ve done. I’m more than happy to put my record against Bernie Sanders.”
The New York Times editorial page, which generally has been supportive of Clinton in her increasingly combative campaign with Sanders, the democratic socialist Vermont senator, urged her to release the transcripts.
“Public interest in these speeches is legitimate, and it is the public – not the candidate – who decides how much disclosure is enough,” the editorial page declared. “By stonewalling on these transcripts Mrs. Clinton plays into the hands of those who say she’s not trustworthy and makes her own rules. Most important, she is damaging her credibility among Democrats who are begging her to show them that she’d run an accountable and transparent White House.”
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“I do not receive many millions of dollars from Wall Street or the pharmaceutical industry or other powerful, wealthy interests in this country, and have not given speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars to Wall Street,” Sanders said, according to The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, a conservative super PAC linked to a number of top Republican donors will begin airing an ad on Saturday that attacks Clinton for refusing to release the transcript of those speeches, according to CNN. The ad, which is being financed by a group called Future45, will be aired through Super Tuesday next week.
"Hillary Clinton gave speeches to the biggest banks on Wall Street after one of the worst financial crises in American history," the narrator says along with video of someone who resembled Clinton opening a check from Goldman Sachs. "But Hillary won't tell us what she said to those banks. They paid her over one million dollars and are contributing millions more to elect her."