Clinton and Menendez — Perfect Together
The tide may be turning. Perhaps it’s anecdotal, but the media seem to be dialing back the Trump/Russia collusion rhetoric. Even The New York Times had a front page article the other day that cited a continuing absence of evidence that is hobbling the many investigations into the matter. At the same time, there have been several reports raising suspicions about — drum roll — Democrats on related subjects. The subtle changes can be found in the phrasing of the investigation focus, which has shifted from Trump/Russia collusion to more of a general concern about Russian meddling in our elections. But there are also more direct probes.
The most recent is Robert Mueller’s targeting of Tony Podesta, a Democrat lobbyist and brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign guru, John Podesta. Even though for now the probe appears to involve only a possible technical violation of foreign agent registration requirements, there are ties to Russia and Ukraine in Tony’s work, and the breaking of the GOP monopoly on Russian investigations is telling. But the revelations related to Hillary and the Clinton Foundation are raising far more eyebrows.
Back in 2010, a Russian spy ring was rolled up that included a spy placed in a local accounting firm to gather tax information on government officials for possible bribery stings. This one really caught my attention because that same firm had been doing my tax returns for years, and the spy was the No. 2 person on my account. Apparently the Russians didn’t consider me important enough, because nothing came of it, but reports surfaced the other day that the real goal of the Russian plot was to eventually compromise Hillary by first targeting lower-level government officials and working their way up the food chain. Inquiring minds would like to know just how far up that program reached.
Then there’s the Uranium One deal. To refresh your memory, that’s the deal which was approved by the Obama administration that gave control of 20% of U.S. uranium to a Russian firm with ties to Putin. At the time the deal was approved, Obama assured all that there were sufficient safeguards built in to prevent Russia from compromising our national security, and the deal went through. Last week, however, information surfaced that while the deal was being reviewed, the FBI had documents and testimony from an insider informant showing rampant bribery, extortion and money laundering by the principals of the related Russian companies. But the FBI sat on the information and didn’t even share it with the relevant congressional committees. Mueller was then head of the FBI, but it is inconceivable that this type of decision would be left at that level; this had to go to Eric Holder and Barack Obama.
Even if the Obama administration believed that the terms of the deal gave cover, it strains credulity that knowing the character of the folks we were getting in bed with wouldn’t be relevant; after all, contracts are broken from time to time. I know Obama was focused at the time on a legacy of building a Russian reset, and Holder was probably too preoccupied with running guns to Mexico, but was it just money to Hillary? Why didn’t they demand that everyone involved in the decision had the same info as they did?
The information also showed that those same principals and others associated with Russia donated as much as $145 million around the same time to the Clinton Foundation and arranged for Bill Clinton to be paid $500,000 for a speech in Russia, way more than his typical speaking fee, all while U.S. government agencies, including Hillary’s State Department, were reviewing the deal. Hillary claims that any suggestion she was influenced is “baloney.” She says she knew very little about the deal, was not directly involved in the final decision to approve it, and termed the timing of the extraordinary Clinton Foundation donation “coincidental.” No one seems to be denying the facts; Hillary is just questioning the link. But to borrow a line from a 10-year-old movie, if you buy that, you’d have to believe that Anna Nicole married for love.
It gets better. The FBI informant is under a non-disclosure agreement that carries severe financial and legal penalties if he talks. I’m not sure how common that is, but it could make some sense to keep the info out of the public domain if, for example, there were sources and methods at risk or the FBI had other targets they didn’t want to alert. But there doesn’t seem to be any excuse for Congress to have been kept in the dark. The informant wanted to spill the beans over the summer but was denied, and again that could have added up since nothing was public at that time. But a new request for the informant to testify has been lodged with the Justice Department, and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to deny that now that the train has left the station, particularly if the testimony is limited to the relevant congressional committees.
And in the you-can’t-make-this-up category, the three folks now directly involved with the Trump/Russia collusion probe — Mueller, James Comey and Rod Rosenstein – were the same three overseeing the Uranium One deal investigation. Can you think of a more blatant conflict of interest? There is not a lot of history of Congress going after pay-to-play schemes, particularly those involving the Clintons. Maybe it’s because everybody does it, it’s just the Clintons did it better and bigger than anyone else or photos exist that make any such attempt the equivalent of mutually assured destruction. But the issue is definitely in play, and we’ll see how it plays out.
Which brings us to Robert Menendez. Menendez, a Democrat senator from New Jersey, is on trial for bribery. He’s accused of accepting numerous gifts amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for using the power of his office to influence government probes into his donor for medical billing fraud and to get the State Department to help his donor settle a multi-million-dollar contract dispute with the Dominican Republic.
Now, to be fair, the statutes governing this stuff are a bit vague; after all, they were written by the same folks it applies to. Lower courts have tended to apply a “lyin’ eyes” standard, using common sense to know when the volume of goodies involved and the timing of payment cross a line. Appeals courts, however, as noted in reversals of convictions in recent cases involving the governor of Virginia and two high-ranking state representatives in New York, seem to require a higher burden of proof that there was a direct quid pro quo. If, for example, a constituent treated a pol to a burger at Five Guys and six months later the pol agreed to introduce him to the head of the zoning board to discuss a building variance, you might give the pol a pass. But when there is a series of expensive gifts, like the all-expense-paid vacations to luxury resorts complete with supermodels that came Menendez’s way, that coincide with virtual simultaneous heavy-handed pressure to influence government actions on behalf of the donor, you might have something.
As with Hillary, the facts of the case do not appear to be in doubt. Conviction seems to hinge only on whether the actions amounted to a quid pro quo. The defense made a motion a week ago to have the case dismissed on the theory that the prosecution had not shown such a linkage. It was a risky move. On the one hand, if you look to the recent reversals, you could conclude that unless there was a blatant connection — like, say, an email that said ‘Hey John, thanks for the $10,000; the signed no bid contract for that software work is in the mail" — there was no crime, so maybe it was a good bet. On the other hand, if you play the card that highlights the main issue in the case, and the judge turns you down, you might put thoughts in the jury’s mind. The judge said no and the trial goes on.
Where is the relation to Hillary and the Clinton Foundation? Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but while the amount of money involved in the Uranium One-Clinton Foundation deal dwarfs the Menendez vacations, there is a similar pattern to what both Menendez and the Clinton Foundation did. If Menendez is convicted, it just might tip the scales for those investigating Uranium One, Hillary and the Clinton foundation and provide some cover for finally adjudicating the most outrageous pay-to-play scheme in U.S. history. To paraphrase the 1980’s ad slogan for Menendez’s home state: Hillary and Menendez — perfect together. Stay tuned.