Democratic Party candidate in the US presidential elections Hillary Clinton has been trying to impress her strong personality on American voters, but has been dogged by scandal, writes Ahmed Mahdi
US comedian Bill Maher, host of the Real Time show on the US channel HBO, has quipped that Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate for the 2016 presidential elections in the US, should run for president as “the notorious HRC.” He has joked about how she has been famous for dodging evidence of legal wrongdoing against her, despite the numerous investigations by Congress and the FBI about the different controversies or wrongdoings that she has been involved in.
The 68-year-old lady is famous for her intelligence, strong personality and iron will, and this “tough gal” image is part of what she is trying to convey to American voters. Former US defence secretary Robert Gates has described her as a “tough lady.” General Buster Hagenbeck, a commander at Fort Drum, a military base in New York, remembers his first meeting with her following the September 11, 2001, attacks when she was still a US senator.
“She sat down, took her shoes off, put her feet up on the coffee table and said, ‘General, do you know where a gal can get a cold beer around here,’” he remembered.
Funny as Maher’s joke may be, it carries an amount of truth behind it. There are a few scandals chasing Clinton’s career as a former US first lady and secretary of state, including the e-mail server scandal, the Benghazi crisis and the controversy over the Clinton Foundation.
THE BENGHAZI CRISIS: The Benghazi scandal started when Christopher Stevens, the then American ambassador to Libya, was killed by Islamist militants in the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, following the global Muslim outrage over a short film mocking the Prophet Mohamed produced by an Egyptian, Maurice Sadek.
This made Stevens the first American ambassador to be killed on duty since the murder of American ambassador Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979. Clinton was accused of ignoring warnings from US diplomats and military personnel in Benghazi that the embassy in Benghazi needed more protection from possible militant attacks.
A Congressional investigation took place by the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and the head of the Committee, Republican Party congressman Trey Gowdy, exonerated Clinton from any wrongdoing, professional misconduct or neglect. However, the Committee did acknowledge that the state department had failed to grasp the gravity of the situation in Benghazi, which ultimately led to the death of Stevens.
PRIVATE E-MAILS: Another controversy surrounding Clinton is that over her e-mails. When secretary of state, Clinton used a private Internet server, set up in the basement of her house, to send and receive e-mails related to the state department on her private e-mail account, instead of the state department e-mail server as the regulations required.
But all other secretaries of state have done the same. A statement by FBI director James Comey, a Republican, in July 2016, said that “although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Each side in the 2016 presidential elections has taken from the FBI report what it wanted: Clinton’s supporters see the statement as proof that there was no legal wrongdoing, and the supporters of Republican Party candidate Donald Trump say that the investigations showed Clinton’s extreme carelessness with American national security.
The controversy over the e-mails did not end there, however. In late August, the FBI uncovered an additional 15,000 e-mails that had not been turned over to the government after Clinton left office. In an attempt to defend herself, Clinton told the FBI that Colin Powell, secretary of state from 2001 to 2005 under Republican president George W Bush, advised her to use a private e-mail account for unclassified communication.
But Powell replied that he refused to be used as a scapegoat on this issue and said that Clinton had been using her private e-mail account a year before he had told her to do so. In another attempt to clear her name, Clinton said that she did not know that the letter C, with which some e-mails were marked, stood for “confidential”.
It was recently revealed that US President Barack Obama himself had communicated with Clinton on her private e-mail, although to a lesser extent. This means that he, too, is involved in the controversy over the mishandling of classified American communication.
THE CLINTON FOUNDATION: The server e-mails did not lead to any proof of illegal action, but they did show that if you were a Clinton donor or friend, then you would have had better access to the state department, even if your request led nowhere.
The Clinton Foundation has announced that if Clinton is elected president, it will stop taking donations from corporations or foreign entities. According to US comedian Seth Meyer, “in any other year, this would have been politically damaging for the Clinton campaign. But she is lucky that she is running against Trump [who has many more scandals than she does]!”
There are rumours that donors to the Clinton Foundation were given special access to the state department, but there is no evidence that the department ever gave special favours.
THE SANDERS CAMPAIGN: Another controversy chasing Clinton is the leaked e-mails from the Democratic Party which reveal that the Party had plans to give unfair advantages to Clinton over Bernie Sanders, also running for the endorsement of the Democratic Party in the 2016 presidential elections.
There are rumours that the Russians were involved in this e-mail hacking incident. The Democratic Party has apologised to Sanders, who has not taken any action against either Clinton or the Democratic Party. Instead he has endorsed Clinton as the party’s candidate for the presidential elections.
“BASKET OF DEPLORABLES”: Clinton’s biggest gaffe to date was when she said during a speech on 9 September in New York that half of Trump’s supporters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” people, calling them a “basket of deplorables.”
Her statement caused public outrage, and she consequently apologised. “Last night I was grossly generalistic… I regret saying ‘half’. That was wrong,” Clinton said in a statement. Trump said he did “not see how she can credibly campaign any further” if she did not apologise for making fun of millions of hard-working Americans. However, his reply was also a source of controversy, given his own remarks against minorities in the US, such as African-Americans, Hispanics and Muslims.
HEALTH PROBLEMS: Naturally, the Trump campaign keeps bringing up these controversies to strike against Clinton. But it does not just use the controversies over the private e-mail server and the Benghazi incident. It also has had other tricks up its sleeve, including Clinton’s health.
The Trump campaign has been trying to frame Clinton as a frail old lady who suffers from health problems such as seizures, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and other things. Trump supporters use videos on YouTube allegedly showing Clinton’s illnesses. One famous video shows Clinton’s body shaking violently as she addresses a group of journalists, allegedly in a seizure. Another video shows her exaggerated facial expressions to balloons falling from the ceiling as part of the Democratic National Convention last July in Philadelphia.
These expressions, the Trump campaign says, are proof that Clinton suffers from an illness such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy or autism. However, there is no evidence that she suffers from any such illness.
One real controversy about her health, however, came when she collapsed during the recent 11 September memorial event in New York City. At first, her campaign said she had been “overheated” because of the hot weather. And this statement in itself led to a debate between Clinton and Trump supporters over whether the weather on the day was hot, very hot, or fine, again showing the degree of suspicion and disagreement that the issue can cause.
However, it was later revealed that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia on 11 September and that her campaign had not admitted this fact until the Friday after. CNN news channel anchor Anderson Cooper asked Clinton why she had hidden the fact that she had pneumonia. “Well, I just did not think that it was going to be that big a deal,” she replied.
This showed how sensitive Clinton is about her health and how worried she is about the Trump campaign using her health against her. Trump supporters went as far as to speculate that she could drop out of the race because of health issues and that a prominent Democrat like Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders could replace her. Such rumours are baseless.
THE DEBATES: Despite all these controversies, however, Clinton’s campaign has been much more organised and more coherent than Trump’s.
Her gaffes have been far fewer than those of the Republican Party nominee, who still rants against minorities and utters lie after lie about his support for the Iraq War, the “birther” movement on the birthplace of Obama, and other issues. Clinton’s campaign has also emphasised the inclusion of minorities through the logo “Stronger Together”.
This greater organisation was evident in preparations for the first presidential debate between Clinton and Trump on 26 September. Prior to the debate, Clinton carefully and avidly prepared for it by reviewing the issues and by practising when members of her campaign pretended to be Trump during the debate and debating against them.
Clinton tried to guess all of Trump’s tricks. Her campaign said that it had been having a hard time preparing for the debate because of Trump’s flip-flops over issues such as immigration, Hispanics and the Iraq War. Clinton therefore practised against two possible Trumps: one who would act presidentially and be polite and articulate, and the other who would be rude, rash and address the audience’s racist feelings instead of their thoughts.
Clinton was even worried that Trump’s behaviour over the past few months had lowered the bar so much that he might be able to win the debate by just not insulting people and lying. Trump, on the other hand, according to the Washington Post prepared for the debate by practising “zingers” and one-liners with friends over hot dogs, cheeseburgers and Coca-Cola.
Clinton’s efforts apparently paid off. It was clear during the first debate that she was articulate and to the point, while Trump lied about his statements on climate change. He said in 2012 that climate change was a “hoax” by the Chinese to make American products less competitive and then denied that he had said this when Clinton confronted him during the debate.
According to a recent poll by the New York Times, there is now a 69 per cent chance that Clinton will win the US presidential elections.
A Clinton presidency would still not be all good news, however. The lady is a foreign policy hawk who, unlike her former boss Obama who (relatively) tried to avoid American military engagements abroad, is a student of the realist school of foreign affairs that focuses on imposing American military power, as was seen, for example, in her support for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which she later regretted.
Clinton also lacks trust among the American public. According to the US channel ABC news, fewer than 45 per cent of Americans think that Trump is honest and trustworthy, but the figure is even lower for Clinton at only 36 per cent.
But voting for Clinton is still not as bad as voting for Trump. The latter frequently utters racist remarks, lies, and flip-flops on different issues. There has also been the controversy over the so-called Trump University (not even a university). Controversy has also surrounded the Trump Foundation, which supposedly collects money for donations, but then hands this money to Trump himself to use for his own purposes. These include paying to settle lawsuits against him by contractors he has hired and not paid, or buying six-foot portraits of himself. (This is not a joke.)
If I were an American voter, I would not necessarily be voting for Hillary Clinton. But I would be voting against Donald Trump.
The writer is an assistant professor of political science at the Future University in Egypt.