Politico’s Glenn Thrush joined me this morning to discuss the Clinton Foundation and the FARA and FCPA issues, as well as parallels between hard right and hard left: Bannon/Breitbart:Brock/Media Matters; Coulter;Moore; Milo/Maher:
HH: I am joined at the start of this hour by Glenn Thrush of Politico.com. Good Monday morning to you, Glenn, I’m glad that you’re up and at work already on this August sultry day in D.C.
GT: I am.
HH: I want to begin, I have to begin, there’s no better person to begin this hour and this story with than Glenn Thrush. It has come to my attention that overnight, a new Anthony Weiner sexting scandal has broken out. I read from Fox News politics, “A former Congressman and New York City mayoral candidate, Anthony Weiner, sent explicit photos to a woman multiple times over the past 19 months according to a New York Post report published late Sunday. The report said Weiner, who is married to Hillary Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, describes his sexual fantasies, etc. in messages to the unidentified woman, and called her ‘literally a fantasy chick.’ One of the photos Weiner sent the woman showed his underwear-clad crotch as his son, Jordan, slept next to him in bed.” It goes on. Glenn Thrush, are you surprised?
GT: Am I surprised? You know, I will say this. Having covered child welfare in New York City, and now what I’m going to say is probably a little bit controversial. I covered child welfare and foster care in New York City. That kind of thing would, in a low income family, prompt a child welfare investigation. I mean, that, bringing a kid, and having a kid even peripherally involved in anything like that is absolutely stomach-churning. And I think this kind of, we’ve gone from this being funny to this being pathological and really, really creepy. And I just think like, you know, I just sort of wonder how this guy can get up every morning and face the world. I just don’t, I just don’t understand how you keep doing this thing over and over again.
HH: He’s clearly sick, right? I mean, he’s clearly sick. He’s addicted to this.
GT: Yeah, I mean, and it’s not just being addicted to that. Well, it’s a couple of things. First of all, it’s narcissistic. It’s just creepy, right? And then the other thing about it is you know, it really is, I hate to say this, it’s kind of a parable for you know, where we’re at. But I mean, he’s incapable of, the irony here is he’s incapable of doing anything in private.
HH: Agreed. Now next question, does it impact Campaign 2016? He is married to Huma Abedin. Huma is Hillary’s right arm and alter ego and second daughter, right? So this is the scandal that she has survived twice, and has powered her way through. Does it impact? It certainly would show up, I mean, we spent all weekend talking about Steve Bannon, who got hired as CEO. Huma Abedin is evidently untouchable. Does this in any way impact Hillary?
GT: Well, I don’t see why the sins of the husband should be visited on the wife. I mean, I think, you know, I think the, the big difference between Steve Bannon, again, the thing that I want to keep bringing up, people, you cannot utter Huma Abedin’s name in the same name as Bannon. Huma Abedin is Hillary’s body person. She has an exalted title of vice chair of the campaign. But I have done, Hugh, and you know, you’ve read them, I’ve done 15, 20 behind the curtain stories about the Clinton campaign, about decision points, about moments where stuff was blowing up behind the scenes. Never in a single one of them has Huma Abedin been a central character in any of those stories. She is an important, I think, psychological prop for Hillary Clinton. She’s somebody she confides in. This is not somebody who makes campaign decisions. You know, Bannon in his first week on the job had more influence politically on Donald Trump than Huma Abedin does on Hillary Clinton.
HH: Let’s got to the Clinton Foundation scandal of last week. Doug Band’s emails to Huma, who was running the concierge service at State for the Clinton Foundation clients, and that puts her in a decision matrix, as does it put Cheryl Mills. And Cheryl Mills, you know, I am a veteran of the White House Counsel’s office. Cheryl Mills was actually the White House Counsel. She knows about the Foreign Agents Registration Act. She knows about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That story ought to be everywhere, but it only made the Los Angeles Times, and only secondarily in their front page story about Gilbert Chagoury yesterday. Does it finally get attention this week, Glenn Thrush?
GT: Well, I think, you know, the aggregate of this stuff on Hillary’s trust ratings is really the ballgame here, and we’re seeing some creep at least in national polls of Trump moving up. We had a Morning Consult poll, granted it was of only registered voters, but it shows him closing to within three. I expect this to close anyway. Look, you know, the one thing that the Trump campaign has done really consistently since Kellyanne came on is hammer away on these two scandals, you know, suppressing her trust numbers. That’s the name of the ballgame. And interesting, I have, it’s going to pop in about an hour, I did an hour long sit-down with Neera Tanden, who really is sort of, if you want to talk about somebody who’s very influential in Hillary’s circles, Neera is. And Neera had an interesting take on this. She thinks, because we were talking about how Hillary, how trust really wasn’t that big a deal in 2008. You know, Obama really battered her on kind of being yesterday’s news and on the Iraq vote. But Neera thinks that Bernie Sanders is the person responsible for really cementing that storyline by validating it from the left. I think there’s some, there’s some truth to that. But I think that the other thing she said is that the Clinton folks are concerned in terms of exogenous events. The thing that scares them the most between now and November is Julian Assange.
HH: Well, it should, but I want to go back to a very fact-specific inquiry. I know you know lawyers who are familiar with the Foreign Agents Registration Act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Doug Band, and probably President Clinton, needed to be registered under FARA because of what they were doing with State. But more importantly, this goes to a technical question.
GT: But wait, wait a second, I mean, one thing, look, the one thing I want to point, everything is process, man. Everything is a process debate here. What, by the letter of the law, just seriously, let’s look at the tail end of this stuff. Let’s look at the Foundation. Show me a result in terms of the Foundation that was a result of the…
HH: Doesn’t matter to the law, Glenn. The law does not depend upon results. I don’t need to meet Jonah’s argument.
GT: No, no, you’re a lawyer. I’m not a lawyer. I’m a political guy. I’m…
HH: Yeah, Jonah Goldberg’s argument is that the meeting is the quo.
GT: I want to pull it back to my area.
HH: The email is the quo.
GT: What happened, no, seriously, Hugh, seriously, when we’re looking at all these scandals, this is what I want to know. What happened in terms of stealth dealing, self-enrichment or a corrupt practice that you can identify specifically as a result of…
HH: Glenn, that does not matter. You don’t, I don’t expect criminals to write down what they do. I do expect that evidence…
GT: No, no, no, but we haven’t gotten a whiff of that, yet.
HH: Oh, we have the whiff. We have Doug Band saying Huma, Chagoury needs to talk to someone, and Huma writing back I’ll take care of it.
GT: Who’s Chagoury? Explain to the folks who Chagoury is and what Chagoury got.
HH: Front page of the Los Angeles Times, Chagoury is very shady. He’s been put on the watch list, denied a visa into the United States, and building an island outside of Lagos to which Bill Clinton journeyed himself. That’s a thing of value under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Glenn, this will not go away. The media refuses…
GT: Wait, wait, did he enrich himself?
HH: What’s that?
GT: Did Bill Clinton enrich himself? Did he get money that he…
HH: No, no, that’s not what the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act provides.
GT: …grabbed as his own personal…
HH: It provides you can’t grease the skids with foreign officials. You can’t give them things of value. If Lockheed did this, they’d all go to jail. You can’t do this.
GT: But there is no, this is not a commercial enterprise. This was a charitable institution.
HH: It doesn’t matter. The law…
GT: I’m not familiar, I’ll be honest with you, I am not familiar enough with the terms of the law to know the differentiation between something redounding for profit and something done for a charitable purpose.
HH: And it doesn’t…
GT: It seems to me those are two fundamental things.
HH: …That’s got no…
GT: Those are two, those are black and white distinctions under IRS law.
HH: But Glenn, your disinterestedness, not you, the mainstream media…
GT: And in fact, we saw that litigated in black and white in the Lerner scandal.
HH: I don’t want to talk over you, but the mainstream media’s disinterestedness in the obvious…
GT: Oh, the mainstream media is totally interested in this.
HH: Then find…
GT: I mean, are you kidding me, man? The way the media works, this is the thing that drives me nuts. If we, if you can criticize the mainstream media, and by the way, I don’t, I quibble with the term, what we want is a story that is going to pop. And I think there has been, if anything in newsrooms, a queasiness about how anti-Trump the coverage has been over the last six weeks, because he’s had loss after loss. I think the appetite for negative Clinton stories right now in all newsrooms is extraordinarily high.
HH: Then Google Clinton and FARA and FCPA. Let me play you something.
GT: Well, then, no one understands the damn scandal.
HH: Well, that’s because no one’s working at it. Honest to God, no one said that when Lockheed got involved in this. No one said that when it applies to any other company that goes to jail.
GT: We tasked three reporters right now working on Foundation stories.
HH: Okay, Glenn, hold over if you can, because I want to, I want to play for you something I said on Meet the Press yesterday.
GT: Yeah, yeah.
HH: Oh, great. We’ve got the great Glenn Thrush for two. He got up early, he’s sticking around for me, and so I’ll play it and I’ll let you think about it during the break. Here’s what was said on Meet the Press yesterday.
CT: Wait, the Steve Bannon not…
AM: I don’t know Steve Bannon.
CT: I don’t know Steve Bannon. Hugh, what did you make of that?
HH: Well, I don’t know Steve Bannon, either.
CT: But it tells me that there is some…
HH: There’s, I will say this. For every Steve Bannon and Breitbart, there is a David Brock and Media Matters. For every Ann Coulter, there is a Michael Moore. For every single Milo, there’s a Maher. And so there’s a reflexion…
HH: So when we come back, Glenn Thrush, I’m going to ask you about my parallelism in the alt left and the alt right, which is another thing that the mainstream media never talks about. But I don’t know Steve Bannon. I think that’s the most famous phrase of this election cycle thus far. I don’t know Steve Bannon.
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HH: Glenn, what do you make of my parallelism?
GT: Sure, why not? You’ve got the rogues gallery. What the hell? Yeah, look, you know, the reason why you have that equivalence, by the way, and we’re talking about Brock, is that they, and of course, we’re talking about David Brock, who started off working at the American Spectator, did all those Clinton stories, and then flipped. Brock designed his entire empire intentionally to mimic what was coming out of this case back in the 90s. So the reason there is an equivalence is because both of these two sides, it’s actually kind of an interesting way to look at it in kind of an under-reported angle. They mirror each other. So they’re essentially like two football teams that are kind of configured to play each other.
HH: Exactly. Exactly. And you know, Ann Coulter and Michael Moore are both provocateurs who are entrepreneurs. Milo and Maher are both ghastly vulgar entrepreneurs who are provocateurs. And Breitbart…
GT: The one thing I would say is like, you’re talking about, well, I think, and they’re both, I will say about both Milo and Moore, tedious.
HH: Maher. Milo, I used Bill Maher. Moore is tedious.
GT: Bill Maher. I thought you said Michael Moore. Maher’s funny sometimes, don’t you think?
HH: No. I find him reprehensible because of his use of the C word with regards to Sarah Palin.
GT: Gotcha. Okay.
HH: I mean, I find him a reprehensible human being. I won’t do his show. They’ve asked me a number of times, and my advisors say oh, you’ve got to do Maher, his HBO show, the ratings are so high. And I said when he apologizes to Sarah Palin, I will. And Milo, I don’t know anything about Milo. I’ve never actually seen him other than he’s been banned from Twitter, and that’s a controversy. I think that’s kind of stupid to ban anyone from Twitter who’s an American, but the fact is, and I want to get back to this, when we talk about Bannon and Breitbart, I just think that Brock and Media Matters ought to be in the same sentence all the time. And what I got pushback was oh, but David Brock isn’t running Hillary’s campaign Bannon just showed up.
GT: Well, I mean, look, that is a pretty fundamental difference. I mean, and Brock is, Brock, while he is, I think, important in that empire, I think, the truth of the matter is Brock has not played as important a role in this 2016 thing as I would have thought he would have.
HH: But he’s, he does run the superPAC. So Bannon is running now the campaign, and Brock runs the superPAC. It’s like Michael Murphy for Jeb.
GT: No, Brock doesn’t run the superPAC. I mean, Brock runs his little empire of stuff. Guy Cecil runs the superPAC, and Guy Cecil is an entirely different character. I mean, look, that, and again, we’re getting to kind of the fundamental difference between the two campaigns. You’ve got a guy like Bannon who does not have campaign experience who was sort of brought in late, and that was actually a pretty instructive parallel. When you look at the people who are running the various superPACs, you’ve got Ed Rollins running Trump’s, and I was on a panel with Ed Rollins in March in which he spent 25 minutes trashing Trump and his campaign, right? In Guy Cecil, the guy who’s running the Clinton superPAC, you have the former field director from 2008 of the Clinton campaign who understands the state by state dynamic better than any operator in Democratic politics.
GT: So I think one of the things in terms that doesn’t scan in this side to side comparison is competence. I think that the Clinton team just has the better players.
HH: Unless, follow me on this analogy, unless they’re trying to, they’ve got the wrong disease diagnosed. You know, sometimes doctors come to a conclusion on how to treat a disease, but they’ve got the wrong disease diagnosed, and therefore, they’re completely off the map with their treatment. If 2016 is completely different from 2008, and they’re playing by 2008 rules, and 2008 remedies, they might be completely off the map for effectiveness. Let me close, Glenn, I just tweeted at you a guideline to the FCPA and Bill Clinton with regards to the uranium deal. Do you think, does Politico have reporters working on this angle?
GT: On the uranium deal? Yeah, we’ve done some stuff on Iran.
HH: No, on the FCPA.
GT: I don’t know specifically how much we’ve done on that. You know, clearly there’s been some movement on this on the $400 million over the last couple of days. I think we certainly will. But just tossing back to the Foundation, I think that really is a story that can, that is popping at the moment. I think there’s a lot of interesting newsrooms, regardless of what people think of the MSM, I think there’s a ton of interest in newsrooms in that story over the next couple of weeks.
HH: I will keep Googling FCPA and FARA and Clinton and coming up empty. And then I’ll remind you of it next week. Glenn Thrush, thanks for the extra time. Politico.com, @GlennThrush on Twitter, and I can’t wait for that podcast tomorrow.
End of interview.