It’s not even out yet, but Peter Schweizer’s “Clinton Cash” is already being talked up as the first major test of Hillary Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign’s ability to fend off attacks from detractors.
Republicans are eyeing an opening to knock the Democratic frontrunner and Clinton’s press secretary has already called the book a collection of “absurd conspiracy theories” and “partisan-fueled fiction.”
That’s a lot of attention for a book most people haven’t read. Snippets reported in The New York Times make clear the book hones in on foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and speaking fees President Bill Clinton raked in during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state – both topics that have already received a great deal of attention from both the media and Clinton’s political opponents.
Here’s what we know so far about “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.”
1. What’s the big claim?
Schweizer’s book lays out what he calls “a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds.”
It seems Schweizer strays from drawing a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the donations and State Department policy decisions that benefited those donors – but he comes as close as he can.
What could be important is not just the allegation that Clinton may have used her position to benefit donors who helped the Clinton Foundation accomplish its philanthropic mission.
As Schweizer makes clear with his subtitle, the book also alleges that foreigners “helped make Bill and Hillary rich.” Going further, he implies that financial incentive may have affected U.S. policies when Clinton served as Secretary of State.
“During Hillary’s years of public service, the Clintons have conducted or facilitated hundreds of large transactions” with foreign entities, Schweizer writes. “Some of these transactions have put millions in their own pockets.”
And in the background, of course, is the fact that Clinton is now running for President.
2. Are there any specific examples?
The New York Times briefly lists three quid pro quo allegations included in the book.
- A free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia that was finalized during Clinton’s time at the State Department benefited one of the Clinton Foundation’s major donors. The agreement buoyed that donor’s investments in Colombian natural resources.
- Development projects after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010
- A Canadian bank and top shareholder in the controversial Keystone XL pipeline –which Clinton needed to review – paid Bill Clinton $1 million in speaking fees as the debate over the pipeline was roiling in Congress
Those snippets don’t really give much insight into how substantial or founded the allegations are – but that’s all we’ve got out of the Times story.
3. Who is Schweizer? Does he have an agenda?
Schweizer’s critics will quickly point out that Schweizer has picked a side, pointing to his past work in favor of conservatives and for conservative groups. He entered into formal agreements with the Washington Post and New York Times to give them advanced access to report on his book.
Schweizer is a Senior Editor-at-Large for the conservative outlet Breitbart News and was a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution think tank. He also worked with President George W. Bush’s speechwriting team in the last year of Bush’s presidency.
His past books have included favorable portraits of President Ronald Reagan and the Bush family and a book on “Landmark Speeches of the American Conservative Movement.”
On the critical end, Schweizer’s books have gone after liberals with “Do as I say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy” and “Architects of Ruin,” which showed “how big government liberals wrecked the global economy.”
And Schweizer also wrote about “why conservatives work harder, feel happier, have closer families, take fewer drugs, give more generously, value honesty more, are less materialistic and envious, whine less…and even hug their children more than liberals.”
But Schweizer’s most recent book before “Clinton Cash” drew praise for its balance and even-handed criticism of fundraising and spending habits of Republican and Democratic politicians and how money influences policy decisions in Washington.
“Extortion” took aim at politicians on both sides: from President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York.
For that book, he also drew criticism from the right, with Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck commenting that “he should probably read ‘Congress for Dummies’ before he starts making bogus and salacious claims to sell books.”
4. Is the Clinton machine all revved up?
Clinton herself answered a question about the book by saying that she is “ready” for the political attacks that are bound to come her way.
“We are back into the political season and there are all kinds of distractions and attacks,” she said “I know that that comes, unfortunately, with the territory. It is, I think, worth nothing that the Republicans seem to be talking only about me. I don’t know what they would be talk about if I wasn’t in the race. But I am in the race and hopefully we will get onto the issues and I look forward to that.”
But beyond Clinton’s own response to the book, Clinton aides and Democrats are already mounting a campaign to discredit the book and its author.
Clinton ally David Brock slammed the book and spun to the media’s coverage of the book.
“I think this is a political put-up job, and I can smell it from a mile away,” Brock said Tuesday on MSNBC.
Of the book, Brock said “I think what we’re going to be left with here is 100 percent innuendo.”
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said Monday the book “is being used to aid this coordinated attack strategy, twisting previously known facts into absurd conspiracy theories.”
“It will not be the first work of partisan-fueled fiction about the Clintons’ record, and we know it will not be the last,” he said.
It also won’t be the first book about the Clintons to be slammed and stomped on by Clinton surrogates who have attacked or dismissed nearly every book about the Clintons in recent years – including books written by veteran investigative journalists, including Carl Bernstein.
Democrats and pro-Clinton groups are already readying – and releasing – files aimed at smudging Schweizer’s name and discredit his findings.
Clinton aide Philippe Reines ticked off two 2007 books by reputable investigative reports as revealing nothing new, asking “Is it possible to be quoted yawning?”
And Daniel Halper, author of last year’s “Clinton, Inc.” described in an op-ed how the Clinton camp attacked and attempted to intimidate him.
“It’s sad to see Daniel Halper join the discredited and disgraced ranks of Ed Klein and Jeff Gerth, all for the sake of making a quick buck,” Reines said of that book.
5. Will this issue go away?
Nope. Not for a while.
Republicans didn’t need to wait for Clinton to launch her campaign to begin attacking her on the Clinton Foundation’s acceptance of foreign donations or her use of a private email during her time as Secretary of State – and her decision to later wipe her personal email server clean.
But Schweizer’s book will provide fresh fodder for Republicans looking to hit Clinton’s trustworthiness as many times as possible.
And the GOP won’t be lacking in platforms to broadcast that message.
Schweizer has already briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – providing conservatives on the committee an opportunity to come out swinging as the book is released.
And those members include two presidential candidates: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio.
Paul said the book will “shock people” and make voters “question” Clinton’s candidacy.
“The facts are going to be alarming, they’re going to be mind-boggling, and I think people are going to read this book and say: My Goodness, this is happening in America? How could this happen in America?” Paul said Monday on Fox News.