Everyone is tired of E-MAILS and nobody wanted to talk with me about the latest batch of them. Sad! So instead, I sat down with myself and had a conversation with myself about emails, ethics, and the Clintons. Welcome to my new talk show: Ezekiel & Kweku, where I am my own cohost.
Kweku: Remember that Sanders/Clinton debate during the primary where Bernie told Hillary, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails?”
Ezekiel: That was, like, 30 years ago.
Kweku: Ten months, but who’s counting?
Ezekiel: I am. I am counting down the days, the hours, the seconds. Release me from this hell.
Kweku: OK. But do you remember?
Ezekiel: Yeah, I do. And we’ve talked about emails, like, every month since then. Bernie had no idea just how tired we were going to get of talking about emails.
Kweku: Well, I got some good news for you, pal. There are some new emails.
Ezekiel: I’m in an emotionally fragile state right now. Please do not make jokes.
Kweku: I would never make a joke. This is a news website. The new emails are very real. In 2009, when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, a guy named Doug Band emailed her Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, saying that someone named Gilbert Chagoury should be put in touch with the “substance person” in Lebanon. Abedin responded that the guy that Chagoury should be put in contact with was Jeffrey Feltman, the then–U.S. ambassador to Lebanon.
Ezekiel: That’s nice. I don’t know who any of those other people are though.
Kweku: All right, strap in then.
This guy Band was super close to Bill Clinton. He was Clinton’s aide during his time in the White House, and served as his right-hand man after Clinton left office. He helped him start up two of his major nonprofits, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation. When Clinton had bypass surgery, Band was at his bedside. A couple years after the 2009 emails, when Band started his own gig, a “global advisory firm” called Teneo, he put Clinton on the payroll as an advisor.
Huma Abedin is basically Hillary Clinton’s Doug Band. A couple years after these emails, Abedin got an arrangement that would allow her to work nongovernment jobs while still working for Clinton in the State Department. Two of those other gigs? Consulting for the Clinton Foundation, and consulting for Teneo.
Ezekiel: I get the whole revolving door of people going back and forth between working in government and working adjacent to government, but it’s a little much, man.
Kweku: That kind of thing tends to happen when you’re part of the political establishment, and nobody is more establishment in America than the Clintons. They’ve been on the national political scene for so long, both inside and outside of the government, that all of their professional and personal relationships are intertwined. Which I guess is kind of an indictment of the system of “elites.”
Ezekiel: Yup, and I think the Clintons don’t make a real big effort at trying to disentangle these things. They could have, for instance, told Abedin that it wouldn’t look right for her to work at Teneo at the same time that she was working at the State Department. Even though it’s not technically illegal, they would have been perfectly justified in telling her that the appearance of a conflict of interest ruled it out. But they didn’t. It just all sounds … incestuous.
Kweku: Yeah, it’s giving me major The Dreamers vibes.
Ezekiel: Though the Teneo arrangement is weird, it did predate E-MAILS, right? It started in 2011, but these emails were from 2009. So all we’ve really got here in this latest twist is a Clinton pal trying to get access to a State Department official by using his connections. Not exactly a shocker. Unless … who is this Chagoury guy that Band is trying to call in a favor on behalf of?
Kweku: You’ve cut right to the heart of the matter, as usual. You’re so smart.
Ezekiel: And you’re so kind.
Kweku: Gilbert Chagoury, the guy Band wanted Abedin to put in contact with as the “substance person” in Lebanon, also used to be tight with the Clintons. He’s a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who’s been in their orbit for years. He donated to Democratic voter registration efforts during Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, contributed between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation in 2008, and his company pledged $1 billion to the Clinton Global Initiative. He was at Band’s wedding, too.
Ezekiel: So he’s shady?
Kweku: Oh, he’s shady. He was also tight with General Sani Abacha, a brutal Nigerian dictator whose regime was the most corrupt in the nation’s history. After Abacha died, Chagoury returned $300 million to the Nigerian government in a plea agreement following his conviction for money laundering in Switzerland.
Ezekiel: So a shady old Clinton pal was trying to get access to a State Department official through his connections with mutual Clinton pals. Why?
Kweku: That question again. Chagoury told the New York Times through a spokesperson that he merely wanted to pass along “observations and insights about the dire political situation in Lebanon at the time.” Former Ambassador Feltman said he never spoke with or met Chagoury. Band declined to comment, and Abedin didn’t respond. So really, there’s no way of knowing what he wanted.
Ezekiel: Here’s the other thing that’s bugging me — Band said in his email that “we” needed Chagoury and Feltman to connect, and that Chagoury was important “to us.” Who are “we” and who is “us”?
Kweku: I mean, the fact that it’s so difficult to tell what “we” is referring to is emblematic of the problem, right? “We” could be Band referring to him and Abedin, personally. “We” could be the Clinton Foundation, the American interest, or the Clintons. Or it could just be a weird conversational tactic to get Abedin to do what he wanted.
Ezekiel: Wanna hear my take?
Kweku: On what, the whole deal? Why not?
Ezekiel: Sounds like garden-variety political corruption to me. Everyone’s interested in E-MAILS because they make visible all of these previously inaccessible conversations. Before email, people had these conversations by phone or in person, so we never knew what happened in them. Now, with emails, we’ve got a paper trail documenting the stuff that machine politics runs on — relationships, favors, mutual friends, “earned goodwill,” knowing a guy who knows a guy. The Clintons don’t want to disentangle their personal, professional, and governmental relationships because it gives them power. And the Clintons and the people they surround themselves with just seem to want us to kind of … trust them with that power.
Kweku: Do you?
Ezekiel: Trust them? Of course not. Who trusts politicians? I trust the Clintons about as far as I can throw them, and I’ve got a bad back and the upper-body strength of a 5th grader. The awful thing is that in an ordinary election, we’d spend a lot of time talking about the ethics of the Clintons — the extent to which they are corrupted and compromised by their relationships, and the ways in which our laws fail to constrain and punish them.
It isn’t like this thing with Band is some kind of weird anomaly — E-MAILS revealed earlier this summer that the reason a Clinton Foundation donor got put on a government advisory board about nuclear weapons, despite having no relevant experience or expertise, was because Clinton’s chief of staff at the time forced him onto that list. He was quickly taken off the board when people started asking why on earth he was there in the first place. This is the sort of thing we’d be talking about. And, in a normal election, we might even be talking about potential reforms. But, of course …
Kweku: This ain’t a normal election.
Ezekiel: Nope. We’ve got the candidate who gets all his news from memes and who outsources his policy to white supremacists. The guy with loose talk about rigged elections and revolution. We’ve got the guy who runs scams for a living, the guy who doesn’t understand why we can’t use nuclear weapons. That’s the other candidate, and next to that, machine politics just doesn’t rate. We aren’t going to talk about it, not because of bias, but because it’s boring compared to Trump. And not only is Trump less boring, he’s levels of magnitude worse. They aren’t even on the same plane. You know it, I know it, the rest of the media knows it, and Clinton knows it. And she knows we know it.
Kweku: Yeah, but I think we should still talk about this stuff. Obviously, Trump is terrible and unacceptable. But that can’t be the bar that Clinton has to clear to become president. If we just let Clinton skate in on being Not Trump, she’ll be elected having made no concessions and offering no apologies. We should at least be able to extract some promises from her about ethics reform with which to hold her accountable once she gets elected. We should at least be able to shame her into holding, like, more than one press conference before the campaign is over.
Ezekiel: Are we actually going to do that, though?
Kweku: You know the answer to that question.