The Old Clintonian Denial Style Resurfaces, And Spreads

Kimberly Strassel has a wonderful column in the Wall Street Journal, “The Clinton Scandal Manual,” that discusses the remarkable continuity of the Clinton scandals — and the responses of the Clinton machine to those scandals — over the years.

The details change, of course. In 1978 it was lucrative cattle futures; in 2014 it was lucrative speeches. In the 1990s it was missing Whitewater and Rose Law firm records; today it is missing emails. In 2000 it was cash for pardons; now it’s cash for Russian uranium mines. In Little Rock, it was Bill’s presidential campaign vehicle; in New York, it’s Hillary’s—and now known as the Clinton Foundation. Details.

The standard operating procedure never changes, however. It is as if the Clintons have—filed within easy reach on a shelf—a book titled “Clinton Scandals for Dummies.”

Strassel demonstrates how the current responses have followed predictably the Manual’s now dog-eared rules for scandal management: Chapter 1) “Pick Your Spots”; Chapter 2) “Limit Those Paper Trails”; Chapter 3) “Remember, The Press Has ADD”; and, “if all else fails, remember Chapter 4) “The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy” is the source of all criticism. She neglected to mention, however, the all-important advice contained in Chapter 5) “How To Issue Denials That Don’t Actually Deny,” a skill that is useful in preventing subsequent accusations of lying, or at least perjury convictions.

Consider, for example, the recent defense of Queen Hillary by her smiling henchman, Lanny Davis (the good cop, compared to the snarling henchmen bad cops like James Carville and Paul Begala). Defending the Clinton Government-in-Exile/Government-in-Waiting against the inferences most reasonable people (and even a few Democrats) have drawn from the foreign government and crony capitalist contributions to the Clinton Foundation, Davis recently told Fox news that

there is no evidence tying Hillary Clinton to the State Department’s approval of the uranium deal, and argued her critics are seeking to tarnish her 2016 presidential campaign on the basis of “inferences.”

… There’s no evidence that President Clinton, that I’ve seen yet, tried to influence any decision by any governmental agency.

As Davis is no doubt aware, his “no evidence” non-denial denial is merely the latest notch  on the trail blazed by the Clintons over the course of their career. “In their classical form,” I wrote about “The Clinton Denial Style” way back in 2002,  “these denials do not actually deny guilt or affirm innocence. They simply assert the absence of evidence.” Examples (from that early post):

• “There’s no evidence of that. There will not be any evidence of that.” (Hillary, Diane Rehm show, 4/10/1997, when asked if Web Hubbell’s silence had been bought)

• “I don’t believe you can find any evidence of the fact that I had changed government policy solely because of a contribution.” (Bill, Press Conference, 3/7/1997, discussing role of political contributions in his administration)

• “[A] White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity predicted that the Senate Republicans would have trouble proving that to the public.” (New York Times, 7/14/1997, discussing charges that President Clinton might be more closely involved with illegal fundraising than had been previously reported)

Perhaps the retired President Clinton will go beyond polishing his legacy into more general revisionist history, rewriting our outdated heroic myths to bring them in line with contemporary sensibilities. “Father,” he will have the young George Washington say, bringing Parson Weems up to date, “I don’t believe you can find any evidence of the fact that I cut down that cherry tree.”

This “Clintonian Denial Style” has proved so effective with the docile (or perhaps merely Democratic) press that it is not surprising it has been adopted by the current White House.  The Daily Caller‘s Alex Griswold reports the following exchange between CNN’s Jim Acosta and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest (Acosta was following up on questions from  Jonathan Karl of ABC News):

CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT JIM ACOSTA: I just wanted to follow up on john’s question about the Clinton Foundation. Do you feel and does the president feel that the Clinton Foundation and that Hillary Clinton provided sufficient information about the Foundation’s activities while she was secretary of state? Are you fully satisfied with the disclosure from the Foundation?

EARNEST: I haven’t been presented with any evidence to indicate that somehow there’s been insufficient information provided to the administration.

In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto refers to the following exchange and adds:

Asked by another reporter if President Obama “is comfortable and satisfied with what’s happened, what’s been revealed, and what the Secretary of State did in accordance to her agreement with him,” Earnest answered: “At this point, there has not been any evidence presented that would prompt the president or anybody at the White House to be unsettled by Secretary Clinton’s conduct as secretary of state.”

Nor is it surprising that this defense developed and perfected by the Clintons is spouted frequently by the usual suspects in the press. Yesterday on “Meet The Press,” for example, Ruth Marcus, referring to the growing Clinton Foundation controversy, commented that “despite a lot of kind of smarmy suggestiveness, there is no evidence.” Similarly, Politico‘s Michael Hirsch writes that the accusations against the Clinton’s will never stick because the Clinton Foundation’s (and the Clintons’) “vast unscramblable omelette of philanthropy and (potential) influence peddling … can never be unmade once it’s cooked.” And in a classic argument of why the Clintons can never be convicted, Hirsch adds: “Especially among the uber-cautious Clintons, you’ll never find the smoking ingredient; no one will ever be caught saying, ‘Let’s make a policy decision for Bill’s donors.’”

But if we must stick to the standards of criminal law (though for presidents and presidential candidates, of course, we need not), the more relevant standard may be whether a reasonable jury of voters think they should be indicted, whether or not there is enough “evidence” to convict.

And regarding that missing evidence, the White House, Ms. Marcus, Mr. Hirsch, and others should refer to what Kim Strassel calls Chapter Two of Clinton Scandals for Dummies: “Limit Those Paper Trails.”

If you destroy the evidence (Hillary, where’s your server?), of course it won’t exist.


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