investigative journalist at The Intercept covering the intersection of money and politics. His recent piece, co-authored with Zaid Jilani, is headlined "Memo Shows What Major Donors Like Goldman Sachs Want from Democratic Party."
On Friday, WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of John Podesta’s emails, including excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s paid remarks to Wall Street firms. The emails showed Clinton’s closed-door remarks were starkly at odds with many of her public positions. In one speech to a housing trade group in 2013, Clinton spoke of needing "both a public and a private position" when crafting laws. In other speeches, Clinton largely absolved Wall Street firms for the crash of 2008 and said financial reform "really has to come from the industry itself." The leaked emails also show Clinton openly boasted about her support of fracking while secretary of state. In a speech to Deutsche Bank in 2013, she said, "I’ve promoted fracking in other places around the world." We speak to Lee Fang of The Intercept, co-author of the recent piece, "Memo Shows What Major Donors Like Goldman Sachs Want from Democratic Party."
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, John Podesta, is accusing Russia of being involved in the hacking of his email account. In recent days, WikiLeaks has published thousands of Podesta’s internal emails. Podesta spoke to reporters on Tuesday.
JOHN PODESTA: Contacted by the FBI. They are investigating the matter. It is a—you know, it is a criminal breach under our federal statutes, the hacking of my private email account. And we’re—but beyond that, I don’t know the circumstances, other than we did hear from law enforcement authorities that they confirmed that it was part of the ongoing investigation of Russian hacking into—into Democratic organizations.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Friday, WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of Podesta’s emails, including excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s paid remarks to Wall Street firms. The emails showed Clinton’s closed-door remarks were starkly at odds with many of her public positions. In one speech to a housing trade group in 2013, Clinton spoke of needing, quote, "both a public and a private position," unquote, when crafting laws. In other speeches, Clinton largely absolved Wall Street firms for the crash of 2008 and said financial reform, quote, "really has to come from the industry itself," unquote. The leaked emails also show Clinton openly touted her support of fracking while secretary of state. In a speech to Deutsche Bank in 2013, she said, quote, "I’ve promoted fracking in other places around the world," unquote.
AMY GOODMAN: The leaked emails also show how Hillary Clinton’s view on the Trans-Pacific Partnership changed during the campaign. As secretary of state, she backed the TPP, but on the campaign trail she came out against it. In an October 6, 2015, email, the day after the Obama administration finalized the details of the 12-nation TPP, Clinton speechwriter Dan Schwerin wrote in an email, quote, "This is indeed a hard balance to strike, since we don’t want to invite mockery for being too enthusiastically opposed to a deal she once championed, or over-claiming how bad it is, since it’s a very close call on the merits."
Well, to talk more about these Clinton emails, we’re joined by Lee Fang of The Intercept. His recent piece, co-authored with Zaid Jilani, is headlined "Memo Shows What Major Donors Like Goldman Sachs Want from Democratic Party."
So, why don’t you share with us the highlights, what you felt was most important in these emails, Lee?
LEE FANG: Amy, thank you so much for having me.
These emails are very interesting. They provide a window into Clinton and her experiences, certainly her speeches. I don’t believe that there are any huge bombshells, that this will change the course of the general election. Maybe if these emails came out earlier in the year, during the Democratic primary, that could have maybe changed history. But this won’t change the course of the general election.
That being said, the emails really show, including the transcripts, that Hillary Clinton is far more conservative, far more business-friendly, when she’s speaking with aides, when she’s giving speeches to these Wall Street banks. Also, the emails show that Clinton’s inner circle is filled with wealthy people, Wall Street types, Washington insiders, that are kind of part of a—what you might call a Washington bubble. They are very quick to attack and show a lot of contempt for anyone that they perceive on their political left, whether that’s activists or certain journalists. So, you know, these are interesting emails, but for folks who have followed Hillary Clinton’s tenure in government, they aren’t particularly surprising. They certainly fit a larger pattern.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lee, they do reveal that, especially with Wall Street firms or commercial interests, that they expect to be able to be heard, given the money that they contribute. They also show, though, some of the major labor unions in the country also seeking to get heard because of their donations, as well, to the Clinton campaign, don’t they?
LEE FANG: Yeah, that’s right. You know, I think the Dodd-Frank comments are really interesting, the ones you just highlighted. You know, on the campaign trail, as she competed with Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton embraced Dodd-Frank, the big financial reform law passed by President Obama, called it a great law that she will defend. She was very proud of it. But, you know, speaking to bankers, she showed a contempt for the law. She sympathized with bankers who were opposed to this law, basically made the argument that it was only passed because of politics, that, you know, after the financial crisis of 2008, Democrats had to do something, and so they had to pass this. And she mentioned to Goldman Sachs in some of these paid speeches that she sees the financial sector, folks who work on Wall Street, that they know how to make the rules better than those in Washington. So it’s a stark contrast.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There were also, I thought, two—I haven’t seen or read all the emails, but I’ve seen some of the reports and quotes of them. I was surprised by two in particular, one where she appears to come out more to the left in her private discussions with Wall Street than she has publicly. One was over the issue of healthcare, where she said in one of her speeches that she—that she favored, really, a universal single-payer plan, but—and then the other, that her dream was a hemispheric trade agreement that would include not only free trade, but open borders.
LEE FANG: Yeah. Again, that’s really interesting comments. And, you know, on healthcare, this is kind of the enigma of Hillary Clinton. You know, over the last 30 years, she’s played such a big role in healthcare. She understands the system probably better than anyone. But where she actually stands on the issue is confounding for anyone. You know, as you mentioned, in these speeches, Hillary Clinton talks about the benefits of single payer, the healthcare system used in places like Canada, that they provide better primary care using this system. It’s much better at holding down costs for both consumers and the government. But at the same time, you know, Hillary Clinton attacked single payer on the campaign trail this year as she was competing with Bernie Sanders, saying it will never, ever happen in the United States, kind of dismissing the idea, really sticking to the Affordable Care Act health reform system enacted by President Obama. So it’s tough to see where she actually stands on these issues, because, again, she’s kind of taken every position.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about one of the recently released documents, where Wall Street donors use their influence to complain about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s influence over the direction of the Democratic Party.
LEE FANG: Right. And this is—you know, there’s been so many leaks in the last week. You know, when it rains, it pours. This is actually in a separate leak, separate from the Podesta emails. Last week, there were a number of emails and memos released from the DCCC. That’s the fundraising arm of the House Democrats, the Democrats in the House of Representatives.
And, really, in a revealing document, it kind of shows how pay-to-play politics play a big role in everyday kind of Washington, D.C., in the system there. So the memo shows House Democrats going to special interest groups and asking for money and then hearing them out on their concerns, what they wanted in exchange for that money.
So, for example, Goldman Sachs complained kind of bitterly that Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts who’s called for cracking down on Wall Street—Goldman Sachs asked the Democrats to distance themselves from Elizabeth Warren. And in some ways, they complied. They actually pointed out that Elizabeth Warren does not speak for House Democrats. They pointed to an article from Nancy Pelosi making that case.
In another example, General Electric, GE, talked about how much money they’ve given Democrats, and they listed a number of policy concerns. They wanted support for the Export-Import Bank, which, you know, is a taxpayer-subsidized bank that helps companies like GE. They complained about certain healthcare taxes associated with the Affordable Care Act, the Medicare device tax.
So, you know, just in kind of like a mundane way, the memo is incredibly revealing, because this is kind of how a money-driven system works: You go to these donors, and then they list their policy demands and their political demands.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lee, what about the issue of fracking and what the emails reveal about Clinton’s stand on fracking?
LEE FANG: Yeah, fracking is a big part of Hillary Clinton’s legacy as secretary of state, but it’s not something that we’ve seen much media coverage on. We haven’t seen her talk about it much on the campaign trail. But in speeches to Deutsche Bank and other donor groups, Hillary Clinton has promoted this part of her biography. She’s said that she’s promoted fracking around the world, that she’s accelerated fracking in places like Europe—in particular, Poland.
And again, this stands in just steep contrast with what she’s said on the campaign trail. You know, earlier this year, as she competed with Bernie Sanders, she cast herself as a skeptic of fracking. During the New York Democratic primary, she aired an ad that basically suggested that she’s stood against fracking and that she’s discouraged fracking around the world.
But again, if you look at her actual legacy as secretary of state, her comments to donors were much more accurate than what she presented to the voters. When she came into office, she created an 80-person division within the State Department to promote energy development—in particular, fracking. She did travel the world and encourage countries to adopt American-style fracking. She partnered with companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron to encourage the use. She even sent experts from the Department of Energy to kind of provide technical expertise to countries considering fracking.
So, you know, this is just another kind of revealing comment that she gave to donors but she didn’t give to voters.
AMY GOODMAN: Lee Fang, talk about what the emails show about the Clinton campaign’s relationship with the media and specific reporters.
LEE FANG: Right. So, this is another kind of very revealing memo. For many years, the Clinton campaign, both directly and through its surrogates, has tried to cast the media as, you know, bitterly opposed to Clinton, that a lot of reporters have a chip on their shoulder, that they’ve tried to drag down Hillary Clinton and that there’s this kind of antagonistic relationship. But some of these leaked and hacked memos reveal that there’s actually a very cozy relationship between Hillary Clinton and many of the very powerful players in the media. There were these off-the-record and regular meetings and drinking sessions and dinners. They were regularly planting stories with reporters to shape the way that the campaign was covered. It was kind of a—it’s kind of an extraordinary strategy and shows that—really, that in some cases, certain outlets did not—I wouldn’t say that they had an adversarial relationship with Clinton at all. It was really kind of a cozy relationship, if you look at these emails.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lee, in January, you attempted to speak with Hillary Clinton after she addressed a town hall in Manchester, New Hampshire. You asked her if she would release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. She laughed and turned away. I want to go to that clip.
LEE FANG: Hi, Secretary Clinton, will you release the transcripts of your paid speeches to Goldman Sachs?
HILLARY CLINTON: [laughs]
LEE FANG: No? There’s a lot of controversy over the speeches. Secretary, is that a no? Secretary Clinton, will you release the transcripts of your Goldman Sachs speeches?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Lee, that was in January. But it’s obvious now from these emails that the campaign internally was not laughing about the request. They were seriously worried about it, weren’t they?
LEE FANG: Yeah, that’s the interesting backstory here. You know, we had this kind of small rope line exchange back in January in New Hampshire. But the emails show, two days after I talked to Hillary Clinton, the Clinton campaign started reviewing all of the transcripts of her paid speeches and actually highlighting the potential political fallout. Weeks later, after our exchange, Hillary Clinton said she would look into potentially releasing her transcripts. The New York Times called her to release those transcripts. She never did. But as the emails show, they reviewed it, they thought about it, and ultimately decided that it would be too politically damaging to release these transcripts. As we can see, there was an involuntary release in the last week. But if you look at the way that the campaign reviewed the transcripts, they were sizing up any potential political fallout. And that’s actually the way that we see the transcripts now in the emails. They’re kind of categorize them—categorizing these quotes for each potential political downside.
AMY GOODMAN: Lee, you and your co-author, Zaid Jilani, both of The Intercept, are also mentioned in one of these emails—is that right?—by Neera Tanden to John Podesta. They both worked at ThinkProgress?
LEE FANG: Yeah, Zaid and I used to work at ThinkProgress, and—which is housed at the Center for American Progress, a group that was once led by Podesta. And they discuss us. I think they refer to us as "freaks" for going after Hillary Clinton and reporting on her. So, you know, this is just kind of a larger pattern of them kind of lashing out at anyone who reports critically on her campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Lee, this whole issue that John Podesta raises that these are stolen emails and the evidence that it does come from the Russians, and the whole issue that’s been brought up in the debates, to benefit Donald Trump, can you just talk about this?
LEE FANG: Yeah. So, on Friday, the Department of Homeland Security claimed that Russian interests were behind these hacks, including WikiLeaks. They didn’t provide any proof for that claim, but it’s certainly possible that Russian interests are behind these leaks.
Let me just say, though, that for any leak or hacked document, as journalists, we have to review these things, and if they do serve—if the documents do serve a public interest, we have a duty to report on them. There are so many stories that have come out this year where we don’t know the motives or the source of the documents, but they serve a public interest. So, you know, for example, The New York Times reported recently on Donald Trump’s tax return. We don’t know if those tax documents were leaked or hacked or stolen in some way. But obviously they served a public interest, and so The New York Times reported on them. Same with the Panama Papers. We don’t know where those tax documents came from. They were maybe leaked or hacked or stolen in some way, but I think most journalists would agree that they served a public interest reporting on those documents.
So, again, for these WikiLeaks documents, regardless of the source, and if it is from—if these documents are from Russian interests, that is cause for concern, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the contents of these documents.
AMY GOODMAN: Lee Fang, we want to thank you for being with us, investigative journalist at The Intercept covering the intersection of money and politics. We’ll link to your piece, "Memo Shows What Major Donors Like Goldman Sachs Want from Democratic Party."
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