In January, Robert F. McDonnell, the 71st governor of Virginia, was sentenced to two years in prison followed by two years of supervised release after his conviction on 11 counts of public corruption. He, and especially his wife, behaved badly.
But it’s worth taking a closer look at what was considered criminal in McDonnell’s case, because, at least so far, some in the press are suggesting that Hillary Clinton’s conduct must meet a much higher threshold to be considered problematic.
When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Peter Schweizer, author of “Clinton Cash” on Sunday, Stephanopoulos played the informal role of Clinton defense attorney. Skipping right over the truly squalid appearance of conflict of interest inherent in the Clinton Foundation accepting contributions from nations and firms having business before the State Department while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State, Stephanopoulos focused only on law breaking.
“Do you have any evidence that a crime may have been committed?” he demanded.
When Schweizer said he thought the material he, the New York Times and others unearthed certainly merited further investigation, Stephanopoulos jumped on it: “But a criminal investigation? … Is there a smoking gun?”
When it comes to the Clintons, the standard is not “Are we looking at behavior that is so malodorous, so clearly lacking in integrity, that voters should be invited to consider it when casting their ballots?” but rather “Can you show us the ‘smoking gun?’”
Schweizer mentioned the case of Robert McDonnell, which began not with a “smoking gun” but with press stories about improper spending at the governor’s mansion. A federal prosecutor then began a criminal investigation and discovered that the McDonnell family had accepted up to $177,000 in gifts and loans from a businessman named Jonnie Williams. Mrs. McDonnell got a New York shopping trip, a trip to Cape Cod and more. The governor got a flight to the Final Four, a Rolex watch, golfing trips, dinner at an expensive restaurant and some other things. Williams contributed $15,000 toward the catering expenses for McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding.
All very smarmy — it’s not surprising that a jury found him guilty.
But on the matter of quid pro quo, prosecutors never actually proved that McDonnell had taken government action on Williams’ behalf.
He permitted Williams to throw a luncheon at the governor’s mansion to announce a new dietary supplement he was marketing (tawdry, but not illegal). Aside from that, the most that could be shown in court was that McDonnell had instructed an aide to meet with Williams about tests he wanted the state to perform on his dietary supplement. The state never did those tests. The other bit of evidence was that just six minutes after contacting Williams about a loan, McDonnell sent an email to an aide asking about the dietary supplement test.
Yes, you can learn a lot about improper influence by studying a public official’s emails. But even assuming that a federal prosecutor reporting to Loretta Lynch would undertake a criminal investigation of Mrs. Clinton, there are no emails to examine, are there?
The McDonnells’ were small-time corruptions compared with what is alleged about the Clintons.
According to the American Thinker, Bill, Hillary and Chelsea racked up $8 million in travel expenses in 2013 alone. While the Clinton Foundation raised an estimated $500 million between 2008 and 2012, only about 15 percent was spent on “programmatic costs” reports The Federalist. Sixty percent of expenditures are described vaguely as “other expenses.”
Amid the usual Clintonian tactics of denial, smearing the accuser, declaring it “old news” and claiming to be victims of a conservative conspiracy, the Clinton Foundation was forced last week to amend its tax returns for the last five years. It seems the foundation neglected to report certain donations altogether. The news service Reuters wrote: “For three years in a row beginning in 2010, the Clinton Foundation reported to the IRS that it received zero in funds from foreign and U.S. governments. … Those entries were errors, according to the foundation: several foreign governments continued to give tens of millions of dollars … ”
If the Democratic Party closes ranks behind the poster girl for big government/big money cronyism, it will be the greatest act of hypocrisy since Al Gore sold his TV network to Qatar-owned, oil-rich Al Jazeera. Petty corruption is sending Bob McDonnell to the big house. Will massive corruption send Hillary Clinton to the White House?
Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.