A week ago, I warned attendees at CPAC that if both parties reached back to their past for presidential nominees, Clinton nostalgia would sell better than Bush nostalgia. I may have oversold the attraction of Clinton nostalgia.
Two very real scandals have emerged for Hillary Clinton over the past month. One involves the Clinton Foundation, which was supposed to have had a policy of rejecting donations from foreign governments while Mrs. Clinton served as secretary of State. And yet, millions poured into the foundation's coffers from governments such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait — all while she represented the U.S. government in relations to them.
The second scandal involves Clinton's use of private email instead of official State Department email systems, which not only feature the best security for diplomatic correspondence, but also comply with the Federal Records Act. Only more than a year after leaving her post did Clinton share any of her emails with the State Department for the purposes of compliance with the FRA, and even then, only those emails selected by her own aides. During her tenure at State and afterward, Clinton avoided FOIA requests from the media and demands from Congress for her email communications, largely by hiding the fact that she had never created an official email account at State.
National Journal's Ron Fournier argues that the two scandals are connected into "one big, hairy deal." And indeed, at least some of the desire to hide Clinton's emails seems to spring from rumors that the foreign-government donations were solicited by Hillary and/or her aides while serving as secretary of State. "The emails are a related but secondary scandal," a person described by Fournier as "a Clinton loyalist and credible source" told him. "Follow the foundation money."
There's no smoking gun yet — but there does seem to be some real overlap between Clinton's team at the State Department and the foundation's fundraising efforts. For instance: Dennis Cheng ran the campaign finance efforts for Clinton during her 2006 re-election campaign and for her 2007-8 presidential run, a period of three years. He then served as Deputy Chief of Protocol to Secretary Clinton from 2009-2011. When he left the State Department, Cheng returned to the Clinton Foundation, which he just left last month to return to his old campaign-finance role for Clinton in the 2016 cycle. In between, though, Cheng did some heavy lifting for the Clinton Foundation. Cheng oversaw the raising of more than $248 million during that period, including from foreign governments. It's no surprise that the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust has filed a FOIA request demanding all correspondence between Cheng and the Clinton Foundation.
All of a sudden, Clinton nostalgia has become a little too real for Team Hillary's comfort. We have a potential campaign-finance scandal involving deliberate foreign influence, an echo of 1996's controversy with Chinese cash coming into the coffers of the DNC. The Clintons then tried to argue that firewalls existed between their campaign and the DNC, a claim a Senate report found "untenable."
With these new scandals still dominating headlines, the Clintons called on blasts from the past like Lanny Davis and James Carville to go on offense over the weekend, dismissing the email scandal as nothing but "right-wing talking points." On Fox News Sudnay, Davis insisted that Clinton not only didn't violate the law but actually "did nothing wrong." He spun the belated and partial release by Clinton as evidence of her transparency. An exasperated Chris Wallace finally asked Davis, "Do you ever get tired of cleaning up after the Clintons?"
Apparently not, and neither does James Carville. The most prominent of Clinton advisers showed up on MSNBC to argue that Clinton was the victim of "cockamamie … right-wing talking points." Andrea Mitchell scolded Carville several times for trying to spin the story, and finally asked him to explain "why she should be the person deciding … which emails to turn over?" Carville offered a hysterical non-sequitur: "Are you saying she's a crook?"
Perhaps Carville didn't intend to offer Nixon nostalgia, but the scandals seem to be heading in that direction — in large part because Clinton has adopted a stonewall strategy with the media. She planned to announce the launch of a presidential exploration committee next month, but has not made herself available to the press since last year's bungled book tour. Instead, she's just sending out the old attack dogs to make the tired "vast right-wing conspiracy" defense.
Late Monday, Politico reported that Clinton will finally come out of hiding to explain herself in a press conference. It now looks like this will happen Tuesday. If she tries a new version of Al Gore's 1997 "no controlling legal authority" argument, as Carville and Davis have at least suggested, the nostalgia tour will have well and truly arrived — and remind everyone why blasts from the past are fun to visit briefly, but not to live through for another administration.