- Bertha Lewisfounder and president of The Black Institute.
- Lee Fanginvestigative reporter at The Intercept covering the intersection of money and politics.
During Thursday’s debate, more questions were raised about Goldman Sachs paying Hillary Clinton $675,000 to give three speeches. Two weeks ago, Clinton laughed when The Intercept’s Lee Fang asked Clinton if she would release the transcripts of her paid speeches. On Thursday, she was asked again by Chuck Todd. “I will look into it. I don’t know the status, but I will certainly look into it,” Clinton said.
AMY GOODMAN: During last night’s debate, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow asked Secretary Hillary Clinton if perhaps she was too dismissive of voters’ concerns over the sizable speaking fees she had been paid by Goldman Sachs.
HILLARY CLINTON: What I want people to know is, I went to Wall Street before the crash. I was the one saying, “You’re going to wreck the economy because of these shenanigans with mortgages.” I called to end the carried interest loophole that hedge fund managers enjoy. I proposed changes in CEO compensation.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let me just say this. Wall Street is perhaps the most powerful economic and political force in this country. You have companies like Goldman Sachs, who just recently paid a settlement fine with the federal government for $5 billion for defrauding investors. Goldman Sachs was one of those companies whose illegal activity helped destroy our economy and ruin the lives of millions of Americans.
But this is what a rigged economy and a corrupt campaign finance system and a broken criminal justice system is about. These guys are so powerful that not one of the executives on Wall Street has been charged with anything, after paying, in this case of Goldman Sachs, a $5 billion fine. Kid gets caught with marijuana, that kid has a police record. A Wall Street executive destroys the economy, $5 billion settlement with government, no criminal record. That is what power is about. That is what corruption is about. And that is what has to change in the United States of America.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: MSNBC’s Chuck Todd further pushed the issue of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches.
CHUCK TODD: Are you willing to release the transcripts of all your paid speeches? We do know, through reporting, that there were transcription services for all of those paid speeches. In full disclosure, would you release all of them?
HILLARY CLINTON: I will look into it. I don’t know the status, but I will certainly look into it. But I can only repeat what is the fact, that I spoke to a lot of different groups with a lot of different constituents, a lot of different kinds of members, about issues that had to do with world affairs. … Now, if all we’re going to talk about is one part of our economy—and, indeed, one street in our economy—we’re missing the big oil companies, we’re missing other big energy companies, we’re missing the big picture. And I have a record of trying to go at the problems that actually exist, and I will continue to do that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Secretary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders last night in the debate in New Hampshire. Lee Fang, what about this whole issue of the paid speaking engagements and Goldman Sachs? How important is that? Or do you think it’s been blown over by Bernie Sanders, or overblown by Bernie Sanders?
LEE FANG: Well, Juan, I was very happy to see Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow press the issue. When I asked Secretary Clinton almost the same question two weeks ago, she just laughed at me and turned away. This time, on network television, she gave a more full answer. She still kind of dodged and said she would look into it. But this is a very important question, I think, because, you know, it’s unprecedented for a presidential candidate to have enriched him or herself to the degree that Hillary Clinton did out of office. I mean, Bill and Hillary Clinton made over $115 million on the paid speaking circuit since 2001. That’s a lot of money. And a lot of these companies and interest groups that paid them are going to be seeking favors from government. Goldman Sachs, of course, is very famous for using its influence with legislators, with lobbyists, to have access to regulators. So I think that it’s fair to ask. And, you know, Hillary Clinton has, I think, given an insufficient answer to this question over the years.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lee, I wanted to—
LEE FANG: You know, she’s said that the reason she went to—
AMY GOODMAN: Lee, I wanted to play that clip that—when you did ask Hillary Clinton this question. What—you addressed her at a town Hall in Manchester, asking her if she would release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. This is what her response was.
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?
AMY GOODMAN: So, she laughed in response, but, Lee, last night she said she will look into it.
LEE FANG: That’s right. And, you know, she’s given a number of different responses when she’s been asked about just the general issue of speaking fees. She said that, you know, her and Bill Clinton were dead broke, and they had to do these speaking fees. She’s also suggested that this was just an educational exercise: She just wanted to have a conversation with different groups. However, Politico reported that at least in one speech to Goldman Sachs, she gave a very tailored message. She said that she’s actually against all this anti-bank populism, that she wanted to reassure the bankers that she would be more friendly to them. So I think it’s very important for a president who’s promising—or a potential future president who’s promising to take on Wall Street—and she’s made over $600,000 from just this one very powerful investment bank—to at least have a little bit of disclosure and then clear the air about what she did for this money. There’s still a lot of lingering questions. And as Chuck Todd mentioned last night, apparently there are transcripts of this speech. So, the record is out there.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Bertha Lewis, what about all this issue of paid speeches and Golden Sachs? Again, is it being overblown? And then, also, how does the average voter respond to this? Do you think that they care?
BERTHA LEWIS: Well, it’s not that people don’t care, but the fact of the matter is, she is right, this is a bigger issue. Everyone takes money. Everyone does this. And so, once again, we have: “Oh, you enriched yourself with speaking fees.” The transcripts exist, as people say they do. Bring it. You know, bring it on. You say, “Oh, can you release the transcripts?” I think journalists or reporters or pundits, you can get those transcripts. Go get them. And then, like, say, “You said this, and you said that.” But this sort of, you know, you have to go and deal with us—and quite frankly, let me just say this: If this is the worst that you got, then I am very, very happy that the Democrats are having this debate, as opposed to what we know are real criminal activities, real, like, policies and right-wing policies on the other side.
As for me, my thing is this. I take folks, warts and all, and then I decide. Like I said, I’m complex. And I believe that she should be complex, be allowed to be complex, especially because she’s a woman. I supported Hillary Clinton in the primary against Barack Obama. There’s no secret with that. I own up to it. I thought that they should be a ticket together, but that didn’t happen. And I supported Barack Obama. Do I agree? Did I disagree with Clinton on some of his policies? Hell, yeah.
But in the end, my thing is this. I have three reasons—four reasons in this context. One, unabashedly, you want a revolution, elect the first woman president and put her in the White House and catch up with the rest of the globe, who have had for decades women leading. Number two, whether it’s Republicans, independents or whatever, head and shoulders, she could step into this job before day one. And number three, for me, if I’m in a fight and I’m, you know, in the dark, I want her, because, as she said, she has the scars.
And finally, my disappointment, where my head and my heart comes together, you know, I wish that Bernie Sanders had stayed here in New York and done his political career here, instead of Vermont, where we had the rough and tumble, and where actually Wall Street is. And number two, I wish that he had been on that stage and said in 2008, “I’m going to make this case, since I’ve been doing the same thing.” So, yeah, I—like I say, we’re complex. I don’t like some things. I disagree. But in the end, to me, to take on the real big battle that’s coming, I’m for Hillary Clinton, up and down.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, just a follow up—and I wanted to—you know, in my column in the Daily News today, I mentioned that it’s now pretty clear that no one is dismissing Bernie Sanders anymore.
BERTHA LEWIS: That’s right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: He’s not a minor, like, gadfly now; he’s a real rival for the nomination.
BERTHA LEWIS: Well, I don’t know who was dismissing before. I never did. And people of color that I know never did. Now, they was a little dismissive of folks of color early on. I mean, I tried to engage with the Sanders campaign, as a lot of my other colleagues of color did. And early on, we were dismissed. So, you know.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right. But I wanted to ask you, because you are a founder of the Working Families Party, and this has been an influential, although small, party, independent party in the city. But Working Families has endorsed Bernie Sanders.
BERTHA LEWIS: Uh-huh, sure.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your concern as to, obviously, your difference with the party that you helped found, on this issue?
BERTHA LEWIS: Well, first of all, again, as a woman, as a black woman in America, am I allowed to be complex? Am I allowed to differ? Which I think, those of us on the left, is a strength of ours. You make your case. Now, the party in New York decided that the New York delegates would go along with sort of a national plebiscite. I didn’t agree with that, but that’s the party. We might argue, but we never leave. And so, again, my thing is this: I am hell-bent on electing a woman, like I was hell-bent on electing the first black president. And I think that’s the real revolution. That’s the real 21st century move. And you know what? Unlike the Republicans and unlike people on the right, it is good to be in a family, called the Democratic family, that can agree and disagree and still go on.