Hillary Clinton doesn't play by the rules.
That's not a partisan attack. It's not a talking point. It's not a fantasy. It's a fact—an agonizing truth to people like me who admire Clinton and her husband, who remember how Bill Clinton rose from a backwater governorship to the presidency on a simple promise: He would fight for people who "work hard and play by the rules."
The evidence is overwhelming and metastasizing: To co-opt a William Safire line, Hillary Clinton is a congenital rule-breaker.
In the three days since my last column on Clinton, the headlines are revealing:
"More than 180 Clinton Foundation donors lobbied her State Department." "That's not illegal," writes Vox reporter Jonathan Allen, "but it is scandalous." The coauthor of a fair-minded Clinton biography, Allen notes that while there's no evidence of illegal corruption, "The size and scope of the symbiotic relationship between the Clintons and their donors is striking." He adds, "The Clintons have shown they can't police themselves."
"Clinton Foundation failed to disclose 1,100 foreign donations." The cofounder of the Clinton Foundation's Canadian affiliate revealed to Joshua Green of Bloomberg Politics that 1,100 donors to the foundation had never been disclosed. "The reason this is a politically explosive revelation is because the Clinton Foundation promised to disclose its donors as a condition of Hillary Clinton becoming secretary of State," writes Green, a widely respected political reporter.
"Clinton charity never provided foreign data." A spokeswoman for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which makes up nearly 60 percent of the Clinton charitable network, told The Boston Globe that CHAI never submitted information on foreign donations to State Department lawyers for review during Clinton's tenure as secretary of State. The reviews were required as a condition of her joining President Obama's Cabinet, the Globe reported.
In March, Reuters reported that CHAI didn't disclose any donors to the public, as required. The Washington Post reported that a donation from Switzerland to the group was not reviewed. While digging deeper into the review process, the Globe was told by a Clinton spokeswoman, "The charity deemed it unnecessary."
Just like that, the Clintons deemed an ethics rule unnecessary.
This was not an insignificant mandate. It was part of a "memorandum of understanding" between the White House and Clinton to soothe senators' concerns about known conflicts of interest within the Clinton family charities.
"Transparency is critically important here, obviously, because it allows the American people, the media, and those of us here in Congress ... to be able to judge for ourselves that no conflicts—real or apparent—exist,'' John Kerry said during a Senate floor speech on January 21, 2009, according to the Globe.
Kerry replaced Clinton as secretary of State. Clinton is now the likely Democratic presidential nominee. She spoke with great passion Wednesday about the importance of institutional integrity in the wake of Baltimore's riots.
"We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans—between police and citizens, yes, but also across society. Restoring trust in our politics, our press, our markets," she said. "Between and among neighbors and even people with whom we disagree politically."
Restoring trust in our politics? Let's remember who and what's behind this controversy:
Hillary Clinton seized all emails pertaining to her job as secretary of State and deleted an unknown number of messages from her private server. Her family charity accepted foreign and corporate donations from people doing business with the State Department—people who hoped to curry favor.
She violated government rules designed to protect against corruption and perceptions of corruption that erode the public's trust in government. She has not apologized. She has not made amends: She withholds the email server and continues to accept foreign donations.
It's past time Clinton come clean. Return the foreign donations. Hand over the email server. Embrace an independent investigation that answers the questions and tempers the doubts caused by her actions. Repeat: Her actions.
This is not the fault of a vast right-wing conspiracy, sexism, or unfair media coverage. It's the result of actions taken by an experienced and important public servant whose better angels are often outrun by her demons—paranoia, greed, entitlement, and an ends-justify-the-means sense of righteousness.
Can she still be president? Absolutely.
Even if she continues to duck and dissemble? Perhaps. But only because somebody has to win—and the GOP might nominate a candidate even less trustworthy.
But why be president, if only by default?
Clinton should rather be totally honest and transparent, true to her word, and a credible force for restoring trust in our politics.