My memory of US Presidential elections extends back to the Presidential election of 1972, which Richard Nixon won by a landslide.
That election victory rapidly unravelled, to the point where Nixon was forced to resign and had to be pardoned of potential criminal charges by his own handpicked successor Gerald Ford. As a result the 1972 election has become a byword for corruption and scandal, and was until recently often spoken of as the most corrupt election in modern US history, since at least the disputed election of 1876.
The election of 2016 has however in almost every respect exceeded the worst of the election of 1972. Moreover in contrast to 1972 it is impossible to see a happy outcome.
One individual more than any other bears responsibility for this debacle: Hillary Clinton.
The first thing to say about Hillary Clinton is that she should not be a candidate for the Presidency at all.
Her catastrophic misjudgements about the Iraq and Libyan wars, her public gloating over the public torture and murder of Gaddafi, the utter failure of her attempted health reforms during her husband’s Presidency, and the email scandal (about which more below), in any remotely well functioning system ought to have disqualified her for the highest public office.
The list of Hillary Clinton’s failures I have just outlined is carefully selected to include only those things which are matters of public record. There are also persistent rumours of corruption and ill-health. Like most fair minded people I would pay no heed to these were it not that Hillary Clinton’s own compulsively secretive and manipulative behaviour so often fosters suspicion where there are no grounds for it.
Speaking for myself, I noticed this unfortunate character trait way back in the 1990s, during the so-called Whitewater scandal.
After spending an inordinate amount of time untangling the web of allegations in this overly complex affair, I came to the clear view that Hillary Clinton and her husband were entirely guiltless, and that what had happened was that far from perpetrating a fraud or murdering people or doing any of the other lurid things they were accused of, they had themselves been the innocent victims of a deluded and incompetent fraudster.
Listening to Hillary Clinton’s interviews at the time I remember being completely baffled that she seemed incapable of straightforwardly saying this, even though it was so obviously true that if she had said it, it would have immediately killed off the whole scandal, and might even have won for her and her husband some sympathy.
It is this compulsively secretive and manipulative behaviour which – combined with a total absence of personal charm – is the reason for the American people’s dislike and distrust of her.
This same unattractive pattern of behaviour was on full display during the Goldman Sachs affair.
Hillary Clinton’s refusal to disclose her private speeches to Goldman Sachs inevitably fuelled speculation that there was some dark secret in them that she was trying to hide.
When Wikileaks eventually published excerpts from the speeches, it turned out that there was no dark secret. Had the speeches been published quietly after Hillary Clinton announced her intention to stand for the Presidency, like most politicians’ speeches they would have vanished without trace.
If Hillary Clinton feared they would damage her because some of the things she said in them are at odds with things she has said in public, then that shows what a poor politician she is, and how little trust she has in the good sense of the American people. It shows that she assumes most people care about the details of what politicians say in their speeches, and that they expect a level of consistency in their politicians, which in my experience they never do.
To be clear, it was Hillary Clinton’s refusal to publish the speeches, not their content, that has done her damage, demonstrating to the public what an insecure and manipulative personality she is.
For the record I personally find the Hillary Clinton in the excerpts of the Goldman Sachs speeches an altogether more reassuring individual than the one she has presented to the public.
Like Nixon before her, in private she talks in a far more open and straightforward way than she does when is talking in public. In private she comes across – as Nixon did – as worldly, intelligent and well-informed, if also somewhat cynical and ruthless. Far better that in my opinion than the hardline ideological Cold Warrior and warmongering American Exceptionalist of Hillary Clinton’s public statements.
It would be expecting altogether too much of a person as compulsively secretive and manipulative as this to suppose that Hillary Clinton would try to win the Presidency in a simple and straightforward way. Needless to say she has not done so, and – like Nixon – I frankly doubt she knows how.
The result is things we have not seen in a US Presidential election since 1972. The DNC leak shows how the machinery of the Democratic Party was subverted to defeat the challenge from Bernie Sanders; and the Podesta leak shows a whole range of other ‘dirty tricks’ – including incidentally the manipulation of polling samples to make Hillary Clinton seem more popular than she really is.
Meanwhile the systematic way in which the news media has been recruited to become her cheerleaders is nothing short of scandalous.
By far the most irresponsible and dangerous Hillary Clinton has done is however to accuse a foreign power – Russia – of meddling in the election in order to prevent her winning, and to impose Donald Trump on the American people.
This is dangerous and irresponsible at so many levels that it is difficult to know where to start.
Firstly, it is not true. There is no evidence Donald Trump is a Russian agent or has any connection to Russia, or that Russia backs him. All the ‘evidence’ cited to prove he is and that it does – down to the misquotation of a single comment of Putin’s and the claims about Trump’s supposed Russian business connections – has proved to be so unconvincing that even Hillary Clinton has stopped talking about it.
Secondly, it is polluting the US political system by using agencies of the US government to spread this false story.
I have previously put on record my own strong doubts that Russia is behind the DNC and Podesta leaks. Now Craig Murray – a former British ambassador who (unlike me) is a personal friend of Julian Assange – has come forward to say that he knows 100% as fact that Russia is not behind the leaks (see here).
Craig Murray is a man of proven integrity who as a former senior diplomat has handled classified intelligence material and who therefore knows how to separate fact from fiction. If he says he knows 100% for sure that Russia is not responsible for the DNC and Podesta leaks, then given the sources he has that is good enough for me, as it should be for all reasonable people.
What that must means is that the recent statement by US intelligence that Russia is behind the leaks is untrue. I have previously discussed the deeply manipulative language used in this statement, which in fact proves that US intelligence does not have the evidence to back up what it says.
I have also pointed out that it is actually unprecedented for US intelligence to interfere in a US election in this way.
Now that we have Craig Murray’s confirmation that the claim of Russian responsibility for the leaks made in the statement is untrue, we can judge even more clearly what a deeply dishonest document this statement is.
The big question is what persuaded US intelligence to make this statement? Based on everything we know, the suspicion has to be that Hillary Clinton and her campaign, almost certainly with the help of senior officials in the Obama administration, somehow persuaded US intelligence to put out this statement in order to swing the election in her favour.
If so then it should be said clearly that using the nation’s intelligence services to spread a false story in order to defeat a political opponent in a democratic election is a far worse thing than anything Richard Nixon ever did, whether during the 1972 election campaign or at any other point in his career.
Thirdly, these false claims about Russia are corrupting public debate, making a proper discussion of the US’s vital relationship with Russia – a nuclear superpower – all but impossible.
The result is that the ‘realist’ positions that are now becoming associated with Donald Trump – which have a long and respectable history in US foreign policy (they were the policies of John F. Kennedy in the months immediately before he was assassinated, of Lyndon Johnson, of Nixon and Kissinger, of Ronald Reagan in his second term, and of George H.W. Bush) – are no longer being taken seriously, since they are being associated with a man who has all but been called a traitor.
Fourthly, these false claims complicate relations with Russia almost beyond reason.
How can either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton now negotiate with Putin when the first has been publicly all but accused of being Putin’s agent and the other is being presented as the President that Putin tried to stop? How – if Hillary Clinton becomes President and tries to make a deal with Putin – does she explain it to her supporters after all the things she has said about him?
Fifthly, and most dangerous of all, making this completely false claim is planting a bomb under the legitimacy of whoever is going to be the next President of the United States.
If that person is Donald Trump, then he will have to contend with the fact that he is the candidate Hillary Clinton, her campaign, most of the political establishment, nearly all the media, and the US intelligence community, have publicly claimed Russia is helping to win.
How in that case, if Trump does win, would he as President be able to command the respect and loyalty of the foreign policy bureaucracy, of the intelligence community, of the military, of the media, and of Congress, when they have all been told that he is the preferred candidate and quite possibly the agent of a foreign power? Would they not see it as their duty to obstruct and disobey him at every turn, so as to stop him selling out the country to his foreign puppet-masters?
How does Trump contend with the insinuation, which will be hanging over his Presidency from the first day if he is elected, that it was only because of Russian help (right down to the hacking of voting machines) that he won, and that he is not therefore the true choice of the American people? Would not Trump have to fear possible impeachment proceedings in the event that he made the smallest mistake, with many Americans feeling that any steps were justified to remove a President who they had been told was the agent of a hostile power?
If the next President is Hillary Clinton then the situation is scarcely any better.
Hillary Clinton would in that case know that she won the Presidency on a lie: that Russia was trying to help her opponent win and that it was the patriotic duty of Americans to vote for her in order to stop him.
Would she not then have the constant fear of what might happen if (or rather when) the lie was found out, and if US intelligence was asked by Congress to explain the statement it made, and the circumstances under which it made it?
Would Hillary Clinton not in that case also have to worry about the possibility of impeachment if the whole truth about this sordid affair ever came out?
Which brings me to the subject of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
I am not an expert on the US law in question. However it looks to me like a standard law for the handling of classified or confidential material, of which there are many. As is common with such laws, it is a law of what the British call “strict liability” ie. motive is irrelevant, and a crime is automatically committed if the the terms of the law are breached.
What that means is that it is technically irrelevant whether Hillary Clinton breached the terms of the law intentionally or carelessly (as she says). If she breached the terms of the law then she is or should be guilty of the crime set out in it.
I think it is fair to say that most people familiar with this law agree that Hillary Clinton was very fortunate not to have been prosecuted when the FBI first investigated her over the emails. Most of these people also agree that anyone else in the same position would almost certainly have been prosecuted if they had done the same thing.
As it happens Hillary Clinton not only failed to provide any remotely satisfactory explanation of why she used a private server in breach of the terms of the law, but she has also admitted deleting tens of thousands of emails (apparently on the grounds they were “private”) and of having destroyed hard drives to make retrieval of these emails impossible.
Again I think it is fair to say that most people who know about these things would expect in those circumstances a prosecution for obstruction of justice; and that most of these people think that Hillary Clinton is either very privileged or very lucky that no such prosecution was brought against her.
Hillary Clinton is by all accounts a very capable lawyer. As a lawyer she would have been required to keep clients’ information confidential as a normal part of her work. Hillary Clinton was also one of the lawyers involved in the hearings of the Watergate scandal, in which mishandling of confidential information was a central issue. She cannot therefore claim to be ignorant about these sort of issues.
Hillary Clinton has also served in the White House as a member of her husband’s administration, and was a US Senator before Obama appointed her US Secretary of State, when the scandal of the emails took place. Again the handling of secret and confidential information would have been a normal part of her work.
We are therefore talking about someone who has been handling confidential and classified information all her working life, and who is or should be fully aware of the relevant rules and protocols involved in handling it, and of the legal consequences of not abiding by them.
Speaking as someone who has also had experience of handling confidential information, I can say that after a time observing the proper protocols becomes second nature. It is well-nigh incredible to me – and I suspect to many other people – that this was not so in Hillary Clinton’s case.
It is also well-nigh incredible to me that a lawyer as experienced as Hillary Clinton would not in the event of an FBI investigation immediately take steps to ensure that all the evidence – meaning of course all the emails – was tracked down, carefully preserved, and handed over immediately to the FBI. That tens of thousands of emails were instead deleted, that hard drives were destroyed, and that emails should now be turning up months later in a laptop in the possession of the estranged husband of a senior aide who is being investigated on sex crime charges, would be quite literally beyond belief were it not actually happening.
What makes all this even more bizarre is that Donald Trump was already hinting broadly last year that Huma Abedin, the aide in question, was a security risk. According to the Financial Times Trump tweeted last year
“Huma Abedin, the top aide to Hillary Clinton and wife to major perv Anthony Weiner, was a major security risk as a collector of info … ”
If that was a pure guess on Trump’s part then it was an astonishingly shrewd one. If however – as has to be more likely – rumours were already circulating about Abedin and her husband illegally possessing classified information as long ago as a year ago – so that the rumours even reached Donald Trump – then Hillary Clinton and her staff were doubly culpable in not following them up and in not informing the FBI about them.
However the single most extraordinary fact about this whole affair is that someone who has been investigated by the FBI for such a gross breach of security should be running for President at all. At any other time in US history such a scandal would surely have disqualified the individual involved from running for the highest office irrespective of whether criminal charges were eventually brought against them or not.
Which brings me back to my original point about this whole disastrous election.
Hillary Clinton should never have been the Democratic Party’s candidate for the Presidency. It is very troubling that neither she nor Bill Clinton were able to see this for themselves. Quite simply Hillary Clinton has far too much ‘back story’, and far too many character flaws, to be a fit person to be President.
What however has turned this whole election into a complete disaster is that the entire US political establishment – not just the Democratic Party establishment but even a large part of the Republican Party establishment, the greater part of the US news media, and large parts of the US bureaucracy including as we have seen the intelligence services – has chosen to disregard this fact, and has bent over backwards not just to make it possible for Hillary Clinton to stand for President, but to help her win.
In doing so the US political establishment has sought to impose on the American people an obviously unfit person for President, whom the American people distrust and don’t want.
Needless to say this has involved an almost grotesquely biased media campaign against Donald Trump, a deeply flawed candidate in many ways but one against whom no one has ever proved any serious transgression. Speaking of Donald Trump, it speaks volumes of the cynicism that now hangs over this election that there are apparently serious people who sincerely believe – and apparently with good cause – that he was actually put up to stand for the Republican nomination by no less a person than Bill Clinton as a spoiler in order to damage the Republicans’ chances and to help his wife win.
The great tragedy is that unlike Watergate there is no possible happy ending to this story.
Whereas in Nixon’s case the corrupt practices that eventually brought him down were the work of a small group of people around Nixon, making it possible for the political system to emerge unscathed from the scandal caused by his actions, the way Hillary Clinton’s campaign has managed to involve the entire US political establishment means that this time the whole US political system is implicated in her wrongdoing.
The result is that come January the American people will have as their President either someone who they have been told is a traitor, or someone who many of them believe is a crook.
Truly, the American Republic is now living through dark times.