While an annual salary of $200,000 is much more than most Americans will ever earn, it is not nearly enough to explain the Clinton lifestyle. Owning several houses and traveling on private jets and yachts, the Clintons spend millions, own property worth millions, and have millions in stocks, bonds, and other investments. How do they pay the many servants, cooks, gardeners, and chauffeurs who work for them?
The Clinton strategy, which has worked so lucratively, is to make profitable deals while ignoring the scandals they create. Many political leaders work to avoid any appearance of impropriety. The Clintons discovered an alternative tactic: ignore the appearance of impropriety. Bill and Hillary learned that even if they look bad in today's newspaper, when the public discovers the odd agreements they've made, by tomorrow or next week, the public will have forgiven or forgotten, and the Clintons will still have the money.
The Clinton approach to amassing wealth is to do whatever may be necessary to turn a profit, and simply shrug off the unsavory details of how you got the money. It has worked amazingly well for them.
When the words 'scandal' and 'Clinton' appear in the same sentence, many readers will think first of Monica Lewinsky. But that was an exception to the Clinton pattern. The Lewinsky scandal was about sex, while most of the Clinton incidents were about money. It is true that the Lewinsky affair shocked the Americans, according to historian Ann Coulter, a viewing
public that produced record-breaking Nielsen ratings for TV shows covering the Monica Lewinsky scandal for the rest of the year.
It is also true that this matter was "the scandal that led to only the second presidential impeachment in U.S. history" and "the scandal that led to the only presidential impeachment of the twentieth century." But, again, it was not about money. The Clinton pattern was centered on money and power, which are interchangeable in politics. Bill Clinton's long string of sexual improprieties, both unethical and illegal, were beside the point. Although Bill Clinton's repeated sexual harassment of women over the years got more attention in the news media than the financial scandals, this circumstance may have actually helped the Clinton strategy by diverting attention from its true objective.
While the public was paying attention to the women victimized by Bill Clinton, the profiteering schemes organized by Bill and Hillary received less notice. One principle utilized by Hillary in negotiating deals was to ensure that someone else was set up to take the fall in case the deal failed, or in case the deal was exposed to law enforcement officials or to the public. For example, the Whitewater deal was set up to generate wealth for the Clintons, but was also set up in such a way that, when Hillary's crimes were exposed, somebody else paid the price. The net effect
of Whitewater, for example, produced more than a dozen felony convictions against - among others - the sitting governor of Arkansas, Jim Guy Tucker; former Arkansas municipal judge David Hale; Clinton's associate attorney general, Webster I. Hubbell; and Clinton's former business partners Susan McDougal and the late Jim McDougal.
The bottom line: the Clintons got the money, the other people got years in prison. The Whitewater deal itself was a real estate business. The Whitewater corporation sold homes, or vacant lots on which to build homes. They seemed like reasonable homes, reasonably priced. The catch was in the fine print. The Whitewater corporation deliberately targeted low-income and low-education buyers, who had little experience in buying real estate, and did not know or understand enough to ask the pertinent questions when buying a house.
The fine print in the Whitewater contracts stated that if a buyer missed a payment, or was more than one month late in making a payment, then the buyer would lose both the property and all the money paid for it. In short, the buyer walked away with nothing.
This type of real estate scam is not new. It has been around a long time. By contrast, ethical real estate deals are arranged so that, if a buyer misses a payment or is late in a payment, then the seller keeps only what the buyer still owes to the seller, and the seller must refund the surplus to the buyer.
In short, Hillary Clinton sold houses to people and took their money. Then she evicted the people from the houses and kept their money. When it was all over, she had both the house and the money.
Because this type of racket is so obviously set up to exploit the poor, the naive, and the ill-educated, most states have made it illegal. But because Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, political connections allowed Hillary to find the loopholes in the law, and to have loopholes made for her where none existed.
So it was, in fact, that
many people did lose their homes and life's savings in dirty deals. One company offered homes for "sale," the purchase price to be paid in installments. But if a purchaser defaulted on a single monthly payment, there would be no foreclosure proceeding or short sale: The purchaser would automatically lose everything he had invested in the property - the house, the equity, and all prior payments. The small print of the contract said that if a monthly payment was not made within thirty days, all prior "payments made by the purchaser shall be considered as rent for the use of the premises" - not a mortgage payment, not a down payment on a house.
Stanford University's Peter Schweizer described a typical case of Hillary Clinton's Whitewater business:
Clyde Soapes was a grain-elevator operator from Texas who heard about the lots in early 1980 and jumped at the chance to invest. He put $3,000 down and began making payments of $244.69 per month. He made thirty-five payments in all—totaling $11,564.15, just short of the $14,000 price for the lot. Then he suddenly fell ill with diabetes and missed a payment, then two. The Clintons informed him that he had lost the land and all of his money. There was no court proceeding or compensation. Months later they resold his property to a couple from Nevada for $16,500. After they too missed a payment, the Clintons resold it yet again.
According to the pattern established by Hillary Clinton, most of the victims of the Whitewater scam were naive, trusting, and ill-educated. The victims were workers earning at the lowest wage levels, or retirees who had never received anything more than a typical lower-income salary.
Soapes and the couple from Nevada were not alone. More than half of the people who bought lots in Whitewater — teachers, farmers, laborers, and retirees — made payments, missed one or two, and then lost their land without getting a dime of their equity back. According to Whitewater records, at least sixteen different buyers paid more than $50,000 and never received a property deed. The Clintons continued this approach up until the 1992 election, when they tried to quietly get out of the investment.
Hillary was able to sell the same house several times, each time keeping all the money the buyer paid, and then repossessing the house. The profit margin on such transactions is enormous, and explains how the Clintons are able to afford their lifestyle. Bill and Hillary own several homes and vacation houses - at the same time - which have a total value of more than all of Bill's paychecks as governor and as president added together. The money had to come from somewhere. A company which sells the same object again and again - without refunding the payments to any of the buyers - will generate huge returns for its owners. As Coulter writes, whether such a scheme is legal is one question; whether it is ethical is another.
The business plan described above was, of course, the Clintons' Whitewater Development Corporation. And that was the legal part. Although many states made such contracts illegal on the sensible grounds that it involves scamming the poor and gullible, Arkansas was not among them. I'm sure the technical legality of Whitewater provided great consolation to all the people who lost their homes when Hillary Clinton enforced the small print.
Hillary formally joined the Rose Law Firm in February 1977, although her informal connections with the group predate her official hiring. Her connections formally ended at approximately the time at which Bill started his 1992 bid for the presidency, but her unofficial and personal connections with the firm continued for a number of years afterward. Not only as the First Lady of Arkansas and as the First Lady of the United States, but also as Senator and as Secretary of State, Hillary had a conflict of interest between her involvement in the Rose Law Firm and her roles in the Arkansas state government and her roles in the United States government. This conflict of interest was occasionally indicated in the news media, but either it was quickly and quietly swept aside by Clinton sympathizers in the press, or public attention was diverted from the matter by one Bill's adulterous scandals. Ann Coulter notes:
Hillary Clinton created the Whitewater Development Corporation, wrote the fine print, and ran it out of the Rose Law Firm, with purchasers' checks sent to: Whitewater Development Corporation, c/o Hillary Clinton at the Rose Law Firm. As Peter Schweizer says, "Hillary herself sold a home to Hillman Logan, who went bankrupt and then died. She took possession of the home and resold it to another buyer for $20,000. No one was compensated (and she didn't report the sale on her tax return)." The Clintons' involvement with Whitewater continued right up until the 1992 election.
The Whitewater scheme functioned well, because, when it finally ran into trouble, Hillary's careful planning meant that she had placed other people in key roles - which meant that those people, and not Hillary, would pay the consequences for illegal or unethical details of the Whitewater operation. The Whitewater Development Corporation was
a barely legal scheme to rip off the least fortunate Americans - which also happened to yield a dozen felony convictions, taking down the sitting governor of Arkansas.
Although Whitewater was one of the more profitable enterprises organized by Hillary, it was not the only one. The same basic business model would function in other cash-raising programs. A constant theme among all of the Clinton machinations was the periodic interruptions caused by Bill's womanizing. Although his romantic flings caused some difficulties in the media, they also provided a much-needed diversion to keep the public from discerning pattern underlying the Clinton stratagems. One such philandering sideshow occurred when it became known that Bill Clinton had used Arkansas State Troopers to provide both transportation and coverup for his extramarital affairs. Needless to say, the taxpayers and voters of Arkansas were not pleased.
"Troopergate" led to the Paula Jones lawsuit, which in turn led to the Monica Lewinsky scandal when Jones's attorneys subpoenaed Lewinsky. Unable to avoid answering Jones's charges in court, Clinton was eventually forced to pay her $800,000 to settle the case.
Because Bill Clinton's womanizing is habitual - perhaps even compulsive - these various scandals were linked. Investigating one led to another; inquiring into Paula Jones led to Monica Lewinsky; all of which led to Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Wiley, Dolly Kyle Browning, and Juanita Broaddrick. It is important to note that some of these women, and the others not named here, were not necessarily willing participants in affairs, and did not necessarily welcome Bill Clinton's advances. Some of them resisted, and some of them resisted successfully. The civil lawsuits and criminal charges resulting from Bill's sexually harassing these and other women
created new legal rulings, including the Supreme Court's august decision holding that a sitting president can be sued for flashing a female employee when he was a governor.
The sexual scandals, although interesting to the mass media and to the public, were sideshows. The real business of the Clintons continued to generate cash for them. Moving from Arkansas to the White House, they found new opportunities:
Travelgate consisted of the Clintons' using the full resources of the federal government in an attempt to destroy career employees of the White House, in order to turn over operation of the White House travel office to a Clinton contributor out of Hollywood. To make the travel office firings look like something other than rank cronyism, the Clinton White House publicly accused the fired employees of criminal acts and ordered the FBI and IRS to investigate. Unfortunately for the Clintons, the travel office employees were innocent of any wrongdoing.
The Clintons spent thousands of taxpayer dollars by directing the FBI and the IRS to investigate White House employees. Wanting to give the White House travel business to their friends and supporters, the Clintons needed an excuse to fire the existing staff.
Travel Office Director Billy Dale was criminally investigated by the FBI for two years, but the jury took less than two hours to acquit him of the embezzlement and conversion charges. The end result of the IRS investigation was that the IRS owed the head of the travel office's partner airline about $5,000.
In this connection, it is worth citing the full text of the Fourth Amendment from the Bill of Rights; the Orwellian nightmare of a chief executive using the full investigative and intelligence resources of a powerful hi-tech government to search for excuses to fire innocent workers is perhaps one of the most extreme abuses of state power imaginable. It is for exactly such reasons that the Founding Fathers wrote the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The fact remains that "Travelgate" was simply, in Coulter's words,
a president's misuse of the IRS and the FBI to harass American citizens whose jobs he wants for Hollywood friends.
Yet neither Bill nor Hillary paid any consequences for this manipulation of federal expenditures for personal gain. If money is power, and knowledge is power, then knowledge can be used to gain money. To that end, the next Clinton scheme amount to finding ways to access information, again in violation of the Fourth Amendment:
Filegate was the discovery that the Clinton White House had collected more than 900 secret FBI files on individual American citizens, included hundreds and hundreds of files of Republicans who had worked in the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Hillary Clinton hired Craig Livingstone to comb through FBI files without probable cause. Livingstone was a security specialist in the hospitality industry, meaning that he was a bouncer in a bar. But he had done volunteer work for the Democratic Party, which apparently qualified him in Hillary's eyes. The paperwork recording her approval of his hiring was apparently lost at the time that the public began to ask questions about the matter, so she was able to escape any consequences.
Even the Clinton administration gave up trying to defend its possession of the files, eventually simply denying any knowledge of who hired the White House employee who was pawing through them - former bar bouncer Craig Livingstone.
Inasmuch as this controversy involved the improper use of the FBI for personal and partisan purposes, it amounted to a constitutional matter. The parallel case occurred during the Watergate scandal, when White House staffer Charles Colson was found to be in possession of one FBI file. The reaction in the news media was intense:
The New York Times article on Charles Colson's guilty plea for possessing a single FBI file in the Nixon White House was languorously reported under a headline spanning several columns on the front page: "Colson Pleads Guilty to Charge in Ellsberg Case and is Expected to Aid Jaworski and Rodino Panel - Move is Surprise: Watergate Prosecutor to Seek Dismissal of Other Counts."
Craig Livingstone's actions amounted to the same as Colson's except that Colson had one FBI file, and Livingstone had hundreds. The Clintons, however, had persuaded the news media to downplay the matter, so that, although Livingstone's offense was worse than Colson's, the reaction in the press was much weaker:
When Clinton White House employee Livingstone was caught with 900 confidential FBI files the New York Times headline was rather more low-key: "White House Announces Leave for Official Who Collected Files."
Occupying the White House, the Clintons found yet another money-making opportunity. People who donated money to the Democratic Party were given free overnight stays in Lincoln's bedroom in the White House, were invited to private gatherings at the White House, and invited to formal dinners with the President. Bill and Hillary had turned the White House into their private business, raising money for themselves and their political party. When the public began to find out about this business, Hillary invented
a sleazy excuse the Clinton administration used for its violation of the campaign finance laws - heretofore considered by the Times to be the most sacred laws of the republic. It appears to be the only scandal involving Christmas cards. When Clinton was caught doling out Lincoln bedroom sleepovers, White House coffees, and dinners to big campaign contributors based on lists of political donors on file at the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton White House denied that the database was being used for campaign purposes, explaining that it was the president's Christmas card list. It was an odd Christmas card list, inasmuch as it included notations recording the amount each donor had contributed.
The offense was compounded, inasmuch as the Clintons were both using the White House as a private business, and working off a list provided by a political party. Either was bad; the combination was damning. But between Hillary's eye for the loophole in any fine print, and Bill's ability to fast-talk, sweet-talk, and charm, they again escaped consequences.
In any event, the Christmas cards weren't part of the accusation, they were part of the Clintonian justification for a violation of the campaign finance laws more serious than anything.
Barack Obama did in his alleged violations of campaign laws. The levels of subterfuge in the Clinton administration serve to moderate the impression made by Obama's legal and ethical violations.
The final Clinton White House scandal - as opposed to the Clinton scandals after leaving the presidency - occurred as Clinton's staffers were packing up to leave. Determined to undermine the next administration, the staffers committed sundry acts of vandalism, destroying office equipment and damaging the White House offices.
Although there was never any formal complaint from the Bush White House, the story broke in the first days of the Bush administration, when anonymous Republican White House staffers were quoted in news reports accusing Clinton administration staff of doing "a lot more vandalism to the White House and other offices than just yanking 'Ws' off typewriters," mostly in the vice president's offices, including "cut cables, phone lines and electric cords, plus a mess of rubbish."
Obscenities and political slurs were written on walls, and pornographic images posted throughout, both on paper and electronically. Increasing details of the deliberate damage leaked into the new media: "White House staffers were telling reporters what they had seen with their own eyes." The public began to demand some explanation, and eventually, "the GAO eventually concluded - as described in the New York Times, June 12, 2002" - an official admission that the Clinton staffers were guilty of sabotage.
The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said today that "damage, theft, vandalism and pranks did occur in the White House complex" in the presidential transition from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush. The agency put the cost at $13,000 to $14,000, including $4,850 to replace computer keyboards, many with damaged or missing W keys.
In an effort to shield the Clinton administration, the Bush staffers directed the GAO not to include the worst and most offensive details in its report. The Clintons, out of office, directed the New York Times not to include those same worst details in its coverage. The New York Times article continues:
Some of the damage, it said, was clearly intentional. Glue was smeared on desk drawers. Messages disparaging President Bush were left on signs and in telephone voice mail. A few of the messages used profane or obscene language.
Apparently looking for a souvenir, the Clinton staffers stole what they had not damaged or destroyed. Again attempting to shield the Clintons, the Bush administration did not pursue legal action against the theft. In hindsight, it may have been a mistake on the part of the Bush administration not to more aggressively prosecute the Clinton staffers, and Bush made another mistake in protecting Clinton's reputation by not letting the media know what had happened. Some of the details emerged only long after the fact, leaked despite Bush's efforts to shield the Clintons.
"A Secret Service report documented the theft of a presidential seal that was 12 inches in diameter from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building," next to the White House, on Jan. 19, 2001, the accounting office said.
Some of the damage was trivial, some of the graffiti harmless. By withholding accounts of the more serious damage, the official reports of the lesser vandalism downplayed the seriousness of the matter. The readers of the article might have assumed that nothing very serious happened when they read further:
Six White House employees told investigators that they had seen graffiti derogatory to Mr. Bush on the wall of a stall in a men's room. Other White House employees saw a sticker in a filing cabinet that said, "Jail to the thief," implying that Mr. Bush had stolen the 2000 election. The report said all these employees were members of the current White House, but did not make clear whether any had also worked in the Clinton White House.
Beyond what the Times reported, the full text of the GAO report noted that
incidents such as the removal of keys from computer keyboards; the theft of various items; the leaving of certain voice mail messages, signs, and written messages; and the placing of glue on desk drawers, clearly were done intentionally. Any intentional damage at the White House complex, which is a national treasure, is both inappropriate and a serious matter. The theft of or willful damage to government property would constitute a criminal act in violation of federal law.
The Times summarized the GAO's estimate of the total cost of the vandalism committed by the Clinton staffers:
The accounting office confirmed that $9,324 had been spent to repair or replace various items and to clean offices. That included $4,850 for 62 keyboards, $2,040 for 26 cellphones and $1,150 for professional cleaning. In addition, the White House and the General Services Administration estimated that it cost $3,750 to $4,675 to replace missing doorknobs, medallions and office signs and the large presidential seal, the accounting office said.
While the dollar amounts are not significant, the fact that the Clinton administration failed to engage in a peaceful transition of leadership from one party to another, from one president to another, is telling. Dozens of presidents have vacated the White House for their successors, successors who were often of a different political party. Yet, until 2001, such transitions were carried out with civility. The Clinton administration ended that pattern.
The Clintons are the political equivalent of a suicide bomber or a kamikaze pilot: they can inflict great damage because they disregard the damage done to their honor, to the character, or to their reputations.
In sum, Bill and Hillary left behind them a long string of scandals. They learned to effectively disregard the public disgrace and simply amass the profits. Callousness can be profitable. Not caring that both parties and most voters viewed them as simple opportunists, and paying no heed to any legal or ethical standards, they accumulated wealth at the cost of their reputations. It was a simple transaction: they traded their honor for money. Their mercenary tactics were successful: individuals who have no sense of shame or guilt, and who are unshakeable in their focus on gathering power or wealth, are indeed difficult to impede.