Quote of the Day:
It used to be, before the Clintons first moved into the White House, that having no criminal conviction was something that kept you out of prison. But the way Mrs. Clinton and her defenders talk, it’s almost as though it should make her president.
–Bill McGurn in today's Wall Street Journal
We're sponsoring a panel on the character of political leadership at IWF's big Women LEAD Summit June 2 (more here). I'm looking forward to all the panels, but I am especially interested in this one.
Do we live in a post-virtue era? It would be interesting to ask John Adams, who prayed that only those of good character would ever occupy the White House, to give a values assessment of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the putative nominees of the two major political parties.
Adams in unavailable, but Bill McGurn weighs in this morning on Hillary Clinton's campaign's strange justification for just about anything: if it is not criminal, it is okay. This defense is deeply rooted in the Clinton family values system, according to McGurn, who is reminded of Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" remark in 1973:
In 2016 an aspiring president, Hillary Clinton, as part of her campaign for the White House, is advancing an aggressive variant of the Nixon defense. It runs like this: Anything that isn’t criminal is permissible—and therefore none of it should be disqualifying for the Oval Office.
This has become the go-to argument for Team Clinton these days. Thus Maryland Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings was quick out of the box last week when the State Department’s inspector general released a damning report finding that then-Secretary of State Clinton had defied the department’s rules by setting up her private email server. Mr. Cummings, ABC News said, pointed out that the inspector general’s report “does not accuse Clinton of any crime.” The implication is that it therefore doesn’t matter.
Chalk it up as one legacy of the first Clinton presidency, which has prepared the way for the second. Because by refusing to resign after being caught out in an affair with an intern, President Bill Clinton successfully lowered the bar for would-be President Hillary.
In his fight to remain in office, Mr. Clinton’s argument was that because sex between two consenting adults—even between the president of the United States and a subordinate 27 years his junior—wasn’t a crime, it was nobody’s business but his and his family’s. In this brave new world, even perjury turned out not to be a crime when Bill Clinton did it, because it was about sex.
Today the No Crime/No Foul defense defines the case for Mrs. Clinton. And she and her defenders have been invoking it for years:
“There were no criminal violations involved here.” The speaker was Clinton Budget Director Leon Panetta in July 1993, putting forward the White House party line on the firing of seven people in the travel office, in which some had detected Hillary’s hand. Three years later, an internal memo would surface confirming Mrs. Clinton as the force behind the sackings.
“As far as even a breath of criminal activity by either the president and the first lady, it will turn out to be nothing at all.” This time it was White House counsel Lloyd Cutler in March 1994, dismissing the inquiry into the smelly Whitewater land deal. The remark came at the same time Mrs. Clinton was explaining to the press that she hadn’t been forthcoming about the details because she had been trying to protect her family’s privacy.
“Those motives for helping Webb Hubbell, you can criticize or not, but they’re not criminal.” This was 1998, and it was now the turn of Lanny Davis, a former White House special counsel. Mr. Davis was arguing that the hundreds of thousands in payments that Mrs. Clinton’s former law partner had received from Clinton associates after he’d resigned from the Justice Department was not hush money to keep him quiet.
“No evidence of a crime.” “Nothing criminal.” “Nothing illegal.” “No criminal activity.” How frequently these words pop up when the subject of discussion is some action by Mrs. Clinton.
Yes, Mrs. Clinton took a risk with America's security by setting up a private email server. Yes, she walked off with records that belong to the government (or, really, to us–the public). And–yes–we now know that Clinton and her closest associates refused to cooperate with the State Department's Inspector General's investigation. But none of this, so far as we know, was criminal.
Lest you think McGurn is making a purely partisan argument, here is an earlier piece in which he argues that Bill Clinton's sexual escapades paved the way for public acceptance of Donald Trump.