Democrats struggled to respond Sunday to damning revelations that Hillary Clinton wants “open borders” across the Western Hemisphere and that she repeatedly assured wealthy bankers in private speeches that her public statements on Wall Street reform were merely political posturing.
As Mrs. Clinton headed into a high-stakes presidential debate Sunday night with Republican Donald Trump, her statements in private speeches to powerful banks — revealed by WikiLeaks after a hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private emails — appear to reinforce the worst presumptions that conservatives and skeptical progressives have about the former first lady.
Republicans argue that her self-described “dream” of open borders proves Mrs. Clinton isn’t willing to secure America or make protecting the homeland a top priority. For liberals, her doublespeak on Wall Street reform crystallizes the criticisms lobbed by Sen. Bernard Sanders and others throughout the Democratic primary campaign that Mrs. Clinton is a hypocrite who will say and do anything to get and keep power.
“If everybody’s watching, you know, all of the backroom discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So you need both a public and a private position,” Mrs. Clinton said in an April 2013 address. “You just have to sort of figure out how to — getting back to that word, ‘balance’ — how to balance the public and the private efforts that are necessary to be successful, politically, and that’s not just a comment about today.”
Mrs. Clinton’s top surrogates struggled to defend her comments directly, though their cause was helped by the overwhelming media attention Sunday morning to the firestorm around Mr. Trump’s lewd 2005 leaked remarks about groping women without their consent.
From Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine to Democratic National Committee interim Chairwoman Donna Brazile to Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, the Clinton operation’s strategy was to refuse even to acknowledge that the comments were genuine, even though no one in the campaign explicitly denied the authenticity of the internal campaign emails from which the comments were taken.
“Anybody who hacks in to get documents is completely capable of manipulating them,” Mr. Kaine told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning. “I have no way of knowing the accuracy of documents dumped by this hacking organization.”
Democrats blamed the hacking on Russians who are intent on swinging the November election in favor of Mr. Trump. Even as they struggled to explain away some of the most controversial passages from the speeches — for which the former secretary of state was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars — they tried to cast doubt on whether Mrs. Clinton even uttered the words.
“I don’t know if it’s true or not,” Ms. Brazile told ABC News. “I’ve asked the staff at the DNC and all of our Democratic allies: Don’t open up that crap because it’s postmarked from Russia.”
Shining a spotlight on Clinton
Republicans rushed to turn the spotlight away from Mr. Trump’s latest controversy and shine it directly on Mrs. Clinton’s paid speeches.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a top Trump surrogate, said Mrs. Clinton’s private speeches would have been the top headline were it not for the firestorm around the Republican presidential nominee’s 2005 comments.
“I mean, if this hadn’t happened, the whole story you’d be asking me about is the WikiLeaks and the fact that Hillary Clinton makes it clear to the bankers that she says one thing to them — which is she’s on their side and she’s with them and they’re paying her a lot of money — but then she’s going to say something else, you know, publicly,” Mr. Giuliani told ABC’s “This Week” program.
Like other Democrats, Mr. Mook downplayed Mrs. Clinton’s comments while refusing to confirm that she made them.
“There’s a distinction between what goes on in negotiations and what her positions are on the issues and have been on the issues,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation,” stressing that Mrs. Clinton is committed to financial reform despite her friendly comments to bankers and investors behind closed doors.
But Wall Street is just one issue that has arisen after the WikiLeaks release. Equally damaging is Mrs. Clinton’s call for “open borders” one day from Canada to Chile, a charge Mr. Trump has repeatedly leveled at her and which she has repeatedly denied.
“My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, sometime in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere,” she said in the May 2013 speech to the Brazilian bank Banco Itau.
Mr. Mook said that statement was taken out of context and that Mrs. Clinton meant only that North American countries must cooperate on projects using green energy.
“Does Hillary Clinton support throwing open our borders? Absolutely not,” he said.
Mr. Kaine defended his running mate and reiterated their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
But the Democrats’ defense has done little to soothe doubts among the party’s left wing. On Wall Street reform in particular, liberal leaders say there is a renewed onus on Mrs. Clinton to prove she is sincere.
“Concerns about Wall Street existed before the primary and increased the burden on Clinton to call for breaking up too-big-to-fail banks and jailing bankers who broke the law, which she did,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “If anything, this increases the burden on her to keep the volume high on her strong campaign promises and to appoint people for positions like Treasury secretary and attorney general who have a proven track record of challenging corporate power.”