What Clinton said in her paid speeches - Recalled one attendee: "She sounded more like a Goldman Sachs managing director."
When Hillary Clinton spoke to Goldman Sachs executives and technology titans at a summit in Arizona in October of 2013, she spoke glowingly of the work the bank was doing raising capital and helping create jobs, according to people who saw her remarks.
Clinton, who received $225,000 for her appearance, praised the diversity of Goldman’s workforce and the prominent roles played by women at the blue-chip investment bank and the tech firms present at the event. She spent no time criticizing Goldman or Wall Street more broadly for its role in the 2008 financial crisis.
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“It was pretty glowing about us,” one person who watched the event said. “It’s so far from what she sounds like as a candidate now. It was like a rah-rah speech. She sounded more like a Goldman Sachs managing director.”
At another speech to Goldman and its big asset management clients in New York in 2013, Clinton spoke about how it wasn’t just the banks that caused the financial crisis and that it was worth looking at the landmark 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law to see what was working and what wasn’t.
“It was mostly basic stuff, small talk, chit-chat,” one person who attended that speech said. “But in this environment, it could be made to look really bad.”
Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon dismissed the recollections as “pure trolling,” while the Clinton campaign declined to comment further on calls that she release the transcripts of the three paid speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs, for which she earned a total of $675,000.
But the descriptions of Clinton’s remarks highlight the trap in which the Democratic presidential front-runner now finds herself. In a previous election cycle, no one would much care about the former secretary of state’s comments to Goldman. They represent the kind of boilerplate, happy talk that highly paid speakers generally offer to their hosts. Nobody pays nearly a quarter of a million dollars to have someone criticize their alleged misdeeds. But 2016 is different.
Clinton is under relentless attack from Vermont democratic socialist Bernie Sanders for her ties to Wall Street, including paid speeches and campaign fundraising events. And she is now under intense pressure from the media and some on the left to release transcripts of her remarks to Goldman and other banks.
The problem is, if Clinton releases the transcripts, Sanders and other progressive candidates could take even seemingly innocuous comments and make them sound as though Clinton is in the tank for Wall Street. And if she doesn’t, it makes her look like she has something very damaging to hide.
“One the one hand, if Clinton discloses these speech transcripts that’s not going to be the end of it,” said Dennis Kelleher, chief executive of financial reform group Better Markets. “I think you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t in this never ending game of gotcha. But as a political matter, she should probably just disclose it all and disclose it quickly.”
That kind of conflicted view — she should release the transcripts but will get hammered if she does — is rampant in Democratic circles. Some people close to the campaign both want Clinton to release the remarks, because they don’t think there is anything bad about them, but worry about what will happen if she does.
“If it were up to me I’d just say go ahead and release them and deal with it,” said one senior Democrat close to the Clinton campaign. “But I can understand why they don’t want to because anything can be taken out of context and blown up.”
So far, the Clinton campaign has shown no inclination to release the texts of her remarks to Goldman or anyone else. At a debate in New Hampshire last week, Clinton said she would “look into” the matter. A day after the debate, Clinton pollster Joel Benenson told reporters, “I don’t think voters are interested in the transcripts of her speeches.” On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Clinton pushed back even harder on calls to release the speech transcripts.
“Let everybody who’s ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release them. We’ll all release them at the same time,” she said. “I have never, ever been influenced in a view or a vote by anyone who has given me any kind of funding.”
Clinton tried to turn the tables on Sanders in New Hampshire on Monday, saying he, too, has taken cash from Wall Street.
“Sen. Sanders took about $200,000 from Wall Street firms. Not directly, but through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee,” she said. “There was nothing wrong with that. It hasn't changed his view! Well, it didn't change my view or my vote either!”
People close to the Clinton campaign say the hope is that calls for release of the transcripts will fade after New Hampshire, assuming the former first lady can defeat Sanders in South Carolina and the mass of mostly Southern states that vote on March 1 in the Super Tuesday primaries.
Potential general election opponents could conceivably hit Clinton on her Wall Street ties but it would be much harder for them to do so than Sanders. Many of the GOP candidates — including Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz — have ties to Wall Street. Kasich worked at Lehman Brothers and Cruz’s wife works for Goldman Sachs. Bush, Rubio and Christie have all competed hard for donations from the financial industry.
But until Clinton gets clear of Sanders, her speeches to Goldman and other banks will likely continue to pose problems. Some progressive groups say beyond the speeches themselves, the fear is that, as president, Clinton would be too chummy with bankers and rely on Wall Street executives for senior positions like Treasury secretary. The highly paid speaking gigs just make these fears more intense.
“The big-picture question voters care about is: Who does a politician surround themselves with and will they hold accountable people they have a close relationship with?” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Hillary Clinton would reassure voters if she said she would appoint a Treasury secretary not from Wall Street, an attorney general and SEC chair with a proven record of holding Wall Street accountable, and generally work with Elizabeth Warren to stop the revolving door between industry and government.”
Kelleher echoed that sentiment, saying Clinton could blow the speech question off the radar if she could more clearly articulate an approach to Wall Street that would ease anxiety on the left. Previous comments, including that she took the $675,000 from Goldman because “that’s what they offered,” have not done the trick.
“I don’t know how she does it, but she has got to get to the fundamental issue and address it in a way that convinces voters that, no matter what money she has gotten from Wall Street, when she is president she will represent the American people and do what’s right,” Kelleher said. “Until she does that in a convincing way, stories like this will still be a problem for her.”
One thing that is clear is that Clinton could release the Goldman transcripts unilaterally if she chose to do so.
BuzzFeed reported over the weekend that contracts for two paid speeches — not to Goldman — made clear that Clinton owned exclusive rights to the content and any reproductions of her remarks.
A person familiar with the matter said that even if Goldman did have the ability to block Clinton from releasing her remarks, the bank would never exercise that right and would allow the speeches to be released.
But many Clinton supporters remain steadfast that she should not be pressured into releasing the text of private remarks.