The Hillary Scandals: A Guide

Photo: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images.
Clinton Cash, a much-hyped Hillary Clinton takedown, hits shelves today. The book, by conservative writer and activist Peter Schweitzer, alleges impropriety between the Clintons and some of their big donors. The resulting media frenzy has created the first big "scandal" of Hillary's 2016 run — but, it's not the first time she's been accused of something terrible. 

Is Hillary more plagued by drama than others? Or just more inclined to be attacked and smeared by her enemies? Here’s a look back at the top Hillary Clinton "scandals" of the past few decades — and whether they should be treated as such.

Whitewater 
During the 1992 presidential campaign, reports surfaced that then-candidate Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, had invested and lost money in the Whitewater Development Corporation. The Clinton’s business partners, James and Susan McDougal, who were also involved in a failed savings and loan bank, were ultimately convicted of fraud. But, after seven years of investigation, costing more than $70 million, a series of independent counsels investigating the incident ultimately said there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute the Clintons.   

Big Deal?
Nope

The Other “Gates”
But, perhaps the equally significant legacy of Whitewater was that it launched the ultimately far-reaching investigations of independent counsel Kenneth Starr.  Originally appointed to investigate Whitewater, Starr ultimately (and arguably wantonly) expanded his inquiry to include the apparent suicide of Clinton White House council Vince Foster (“Fostergate”), the firing of several White House travel-office staff (“Travelgate”), and accusations that White House staff improperly accessed the FBI files of several individuals (“Filegate”). None of these investigations ever made it beyond rumor-mongering. 

Big Deal?
Nope

Monica Lewinsky 
Bill Clinton was plagued by allegations of sexual affairs since first running for president in 1992 — most notably, allegations during the ’92 campaign that he had a 12-year affair with Arkansas state employee Gennifer Flowers, plus a sexual harassment lawsuit in 1994 from former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones.  So, it wasn’t exactly surprising when Ken Starr discovered that Bill Clinton had “sexual relations” with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and then potentially lied about it under oath.  President Clinton was impeached, though ultimately acquitted in a Senate trial. But, the incident sharpened the spotlight on Hillary and her marriage. 

Publicly, Hillary stood by Bill, infamously blaming the entire “story” on “this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.” While in subsequent years we would all come to learn that there is, indeed, a vast right-wing conspiracy in America, at the time Clinton’s response — and by extension, Hillary — was pilloried as either woefully naïve or in denial. And, while there’s arguably something deeply sexist about suggesting that her husband’s sexual history should have any bearing on her candidacy, America’s love of a sex scandal — plus the historical significance of the Lewinsky affair, particularly in media and culture — ensure this will probably play some role in the 2016 elections, even if only in oblique references. 

Big Deal?
Shouldn't be, but that doesn't mean it won't come up.
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2008 Campaign
While there weren’t any big, new scandals that surfaced during Hillary’s previous run for the White House, several of the old ones got new life — just as several hiccups in the campaign may come back to haunt Hillary in this round. For instance, one of her top fundraising bundlers, Norman Hsu, was found to be a 15-years-long fugitive facing fraud charges and was eventually convicted of campaign-finance violations. Her chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn, resigned after it was revealed he was also doing P.R. work for the Colombian government to promote a trade deal opposed by unions (an issue that may surface again, since many Democratic leaders and voters oppose the TPP trade deal supported by Obama and Republicans). 

Also in the 2008 campaign, Bill and Hillary Clinton doled out some dicey racialized rhetoric. In an interview with USA Today, Hillary touted that she had a “broader base to build a winning coalition on,” adding that “Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again” — in other words, suggesting that hard-working Americans are white Americans. And, Bill Clinton made a string of arguably race-baiting comments about Obama, especially during the South Carolina primary. 

Big Deal?
Nah, likely to be forgotten.

Benghazi
In 2012, while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, militants attacked the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing United States Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, American officials said the attack was a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim video made by an American filmmaker, though that was later shown not to be the case. In addition, the State Department was criticized for having denied requests for additional consular security made before the attack. Other (arguably more “vast right-wing conspiracy”) allegations included that a “stand down” order was issued to not deploy a CIA rescue team, and that the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

Republican probes regarding Benghazi have “already spanned 13 hearings, 25,000 pages of documents, and 50 briefings,” according to Politico. All of these, including a two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee, have found that the government acted properly and cleared the Obama Administration, including Hillary Clinton, of any wrongdoing.

And yet, Republicans continue to actively investigate the incident, plainly hoping to find information that contradicts the vast troves they’ve already surfaced. Despite, for instance, the plainly concluded fact that no “stand down” order was issued, the Intelligence Committee Chair at the time (Republican Darrell Issa) still maintained his “suspicions” that Clinton had issued such an order. In other words, there may not be any evidence of government wrongdoing in Benghazi, but there’s definitely evidence that Republicans will keep trying to blame Hillary Clinton for what happened there anyway. 

Big Deal?
 If there were evidence she had done something wrong, they'd have found it by now.

Personal Email Server
In March 2015, it was revealed that while serving as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton used a personal email address — linked to her own personal, private server — to conduct official State Department business. Clinton’s team subsequently deleted the emails on the server. 

While the practice seems like an evasion of transparency, both of Clinton’s predecessors — Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — used personal email accounts as Secretary of State, including while conducting official business. And, Clinton did hand over 55,000 emails from her time in the State Department. 

Big Deal?
Maybe. Emailgate raised eyebrows on the left and the right, but since there were no official rules broken, it might fade away.
Foreign Foundation Donations 
The latest scandal (or “scandal”) involves donations from foreign business leaders and politicians made to the Clinton Global Foundation, particularly from the period during which Bill ran the foundation while Hillary served as Secretary of State. At issue is whether some of the donations to the foundation were intended to influence Secretary Clinton and her authority.  

Yet so far, there are no concrete facts pointing to such influence or illegality — simply circumstantial evidence and speculation. The allegations stem from a forthcoming book, Clinton Cash, published by a widely discredited right-wing author. The foundation has admitted it made mistakes in donor disclosures and said it will amend those disclosures soon. Beyond that, again, it remains to be seen whether voters beyond the Republican base will buy into these speculations.  

Big Deal? Depends. If you're not a Clinton fan already, this is the sort of not-quite-concrete accusation that might reinforce your worst perceptions.
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