Five Minutes With: Peter Schweizer
Five Minutes With: Peter Schweizer
Unsurprisingly, the film is causing a stir worldwide as the US presidential election year heats up. Clinton Cash investigates how the Clintons managed to reconfigure their finances, from being ‘dead broke’ when they left the White House in 2001, to amassing in excess of US$150 million with US$2 billion in donations to their foundation in only a few years.
The film also chronicles the years in which the power couple and their foundation were enriched and by whom, including exorbitant fees paid to Bill Clinton for speeches whilst his wife was Secretary of State. This includes US$1.4 million he received for two speeches in Nigeria in 2011 and 2012, during the country’s President Goodluck Jonathan’s when he was under fire for his human right’s record.
Q: What was Hillary Clinton’s reaction to your book?
Well, they attacked the messenger and not the message which is what they consider a really effective way. So that was the issue and to really deflect from the larger issues that were raised. I think that the kill the messenger thing didn’t really work because they basically said that this is a ‘vast right wing conspiracy’ and ‘everybody is out to get us’. But we made a concerted effort before the book came out to go to journalists at The New York Times the Washington Post and ABC News and say that we found some really interesting things you might want to look into. And they did. And it confirmed what they had found. So I think when they attacked and said, ‘Oh, Schweizer is just a conservative and right wing,’ but it gets really hard to include ABC News, The Washington Post and The New York Times in a vast, right wing conspiracy. And what I hope and believe, is that facts are facts. And you can look at the flow of that money, the timing of that money and decisions that are made. You don’t have to agree with me and you can say that it’s coincidence and these kinds of things happen, but I don’t think that you can dispute the facts, who the decisions were made by and the decisions that were made to benefit people that made those decisions.
Q: In Australia it’s compulsory to vote, but is the fact that so many Americans don’t vote, a reflection that the majority doesn’t really care?
I think there’s a sizable portion of people that do care but I think that one of the challenges that we have in American politics is because we are basically a 50/50 country. One party wins or the other and they get maybe 54 percent or 55 percent of the vote and the other gets 45 percent so it’s neck and neck. Part of the problem is on these kinds of ethical issues, people want to come to the conclusion that, ‘Well, my guy might be doing this, but they are my guy and it’s okay.’ And I have found that very troubling and so I have called out Republicans before and I have criticised them and I have been attacked by Republicans for doing so. But I think if we take ethics seriously, we need to hold everybody accountable. I don’t think everybody is irreplaceable. I tell this to people who are Democrats and they say, ‘Oh, you can’t do that because if Clinton is not there, we won’t have a candidate.’ I am like, ‘What are you talking about? There’s half a dozen people in the democratic party that could run for President and could win.’
Q: So then, why Hillary?
I think you have two things in both political parties. For a long time, the Bush family had a political machine in the Republican party and the Clinton’s have a political machine in the Democratic party. The Bush’s were hoping that that machine was going to work for their benefit and it didn’t. And not only just Trump, but I mean Bush lost to five or six other candidates that were consistently ahead of him and in the Democratic party, you still have a party that is dominated by the Clinton machine. And I think one of the reasons that you don’t even see a lot of Democrats raise questions on ethical issues, is that there is fear. There is fear that if they raise these issues or condemn a behaviour that they have engaged in, their future in the democratic party is over.
Q: But is there such a thing as political ethics? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
(laughs) Well I think there should be. I think we always have to assume the worst but I think we always have to plan and structure for the best. What I mean is, I happen to believe that corruption is a human nature problem. Call it a temptation problem. It’s power, and it’s the corrupting influence of power. So we need to expect the ‘best people,’ when you give them enough power for a long period of time they are going to make mistakes too. But that being said, I think taking the cynical approach that everybody is doing it I think it’s a huge problem. And part of the reason you have so much low voter turnout in the United States is because people think they are all on the take. There was a survey done that 75 percent of the American people believe that there is widespread corruption in Washington DC. So if you believe there is widespread corruption in Washington DC, why the heck vote? So I view the two connected and for a democratic republic to be sustainable, you not only have to have people vote, but you actually have to have people with some belief in their leaders. And I’m not saying that they are great and they are wonderful, but you have to have some semblance of belief that your leaders are making ethical decisions.
Q: How were the Clinton’s able get away with this?
I think it’s a couple of things. I think number one, they are very smart attorneys, so they are not going to make a stupid decision in front of everyone that would be a flat out illegal act. So I think that’s the first thing. They are very, very smart people. It’s a very powerful network. So what you often need in ethical cases, if you look back at Richard Nixon and Watergate, is people from your political party to come out against you. And that is what happened in the Nixon case. Eventually some Republicans just said, ‘No, this is wrong.’ And they came out and condemned it. And in the case of the Clintons you are seeing, I think, some of that with Bernie Sanders and his supporters. I think sometimes we oversimplify it and people say, ‘Oh, Bernie Sanders supporters just like him because he’s going to give them free college .’ I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a rejection of the political class. And they see Bernie Sanders as somebody who wants to shake things up.
Q: Same with Trump.
Q: But what is your view of Trump? He is such a polarising figure.
Yeah he is a polarising figure and I don’t do a lot of political commentary but what I would say is that I think it’s very fair game to look at Trump’s commercial ties. Who are his financiers, who are the people he does business with? Because we can expect that when people get into political power they are going to do things for the benefit of their friends. Now we, the organisation I call the Government Accountability Institute, we have been around for five or six years, and our charter focusses on people in positions of Government power and how they self-enrich. So what I would say is if Trump would become the President, we would immediately look at the activities he’s taken and if he is taking favourable actions, we would call financial partners and we would call him out on that.
Q: Regardless of where you stand on Trump, he’s definitely entertaining.
He’s entertaining. There’s no question about it. And some people in my family don’t like him and there are people in the family that hate him, but they all say can’t help but watch him. And that’s a sort of interesting commentary I think on media and on this campaign.
Q: What would the world be like if he became President?
(laughs) I don’t know and I am not saying that to dodge the question because the thing that is interesting about Trump, and I don’t know the man, nor do I have any inside information, but what is interesting about the man is that he says things that are outrageous. And you wonder is he saying something that is outrageous because he believes it? Is he saying it to be outrageous, or is he saying it as some part of his business background? That is the great mystery. Does he believe in what he’s saying? Is he saying it for effect or is he saying it as part of some grand strategy? And nobody really knows. And that’s why you see a lot of people that trying to feel their way around and figure out what he actually means?
Q: Why should people care where Hillary gets her money?
Because the political leaders who have enriched them as well as how they have been enriched, is going to affect the decisions they make. And I don’t mean who is going to get a government contract, I think it’s going to affect US policy, US economic policy. When we first started researching the Clintons, I thought you would see a lot of the conventional stuff, somebody gets a State Department contract, somebody gets this, somebody gets that, and what was surprising to me was how much money from people who had interests in very specific national security decisions. And that I think is shocking. So people should care, because just like we care who is financing campaigns, I think we should care even more so who is putting money in the pockets of politicians.
Q: I imagine you must have received some pretty scary threats after these allegations?
Oh yeah. We get weird nasty emails. You get called names and you kind of expect that and what you have to do essentially is, probably like a journalist when you are working on a story – you have to stay focused on the topic. They try to throw you off by hurling insults or making claims, but at the end of the day it’s about the story. And I do believe, and maybe I am naïve, that ultimately the story is what matters, and the story is what should rise and fall. If we remove who wrote it and who financed it and who produced it, and you look at the story, do the facts hold up? That is how I think it ought to be measured.
Q: Have you ever been fearful of the reaction towards your book and now documentary?
We had some very specific threats when the book came out so I traveled with security for awhile. A guy named Tage, an ex-NAVY SEAL and a very nice guy. So we traveled around a little bit. But you do still take precautions and I think the concern is primarily, there are just crazy people in the world that have distinct views and may not like you for one reason or another and they decide to do something about it. But it’s just what you have to deal with.
Q: I saw the screening today with an Australian friend and she said, ‘This should be mandatory for everyone as well as in schools to see it.
Well I think lots of people should see this and I think kids should see it and I think you could even show it to kids. What the Clintons have done is not only enriched themselves, but they have created a new model for self-enrichment that will be replicated. And having done research and written books on corruption on Washington, when somebody figures out a new way to get rich, everybody is going to imitate it. And so yes, it should be shown by a lot of people and even I think after the 2016 election and whether she is President or not, because this is where things are going if reforms and changes aren’t made.
I think we need to have laws which prevent this kind of self enrichment. I think we need to have restrictions which state, if you are a cabinet officer in the United States and if you are President of the United States, you should not have a foundation that is taking money from foreign Governments and foreign entities. We need to have those reforms or this is going to become widespread.
Q: As far as talking money for speeches for ex presidents, what is wrong with that essentially? Or is it the amount of money that you have a problem with?
It’s the amount of money. It’s my view that the inflated fees are in a sense a disguised form of bribery. In other words, I can’t pay Bill Clinton five hundred thousand dollars in cash but I’ll pay him seven hundred thousand dollars to come and give a speech for 20 minutes. And now it’s legitimised. But the purpose of it is ultimately not to hear his eloquence, it’s to get in good favour with him. And I think the pattern and the manner in which it is done is troubling. So I have no problem with ex-Presidents and with Bill Clinton and others getting speaking fees, except the fact that he is getting them when his wife has official power and the people paying him the inflated fees are doing so when she can make or break them. That’s the problem.
Q: Bernie Sanders should have been behind the documentary.
(laughs) We would love for Bernie to see the film.
>Q: Now that it’s not looking good for Bernie, who will those voters support?
I asked people who voted for Bernie Sanders who they were going to vote for, and it was a shockingly high number said, ‘We are going to go from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump. ‘ So to me, that is kind of the middle finger to Washington, and it’s a significant crowd. And it transcends political views. If you gave me the choice to pick between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders is more to the left than Hillary Clinton and I would support Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton and in part because he at least recognises the corporatist problem that exists in American politics; Hillary Clinton is embedded in it.
Q: The Clintons said they were ‘dead broke’ when they left The White House. Being dead broke is a relative term, so how broke were they?
Well I think based on the financial disclosures, they really had no assets and they really had no residence.
Q: And they were broke because of the Monica Lewinsky legalities?
Well they were broke in part yes because of legal fees and it was Monica Lewinsky, but there were some other ethics cases that came up and they chose to not just use the White House counsel and they chose to hire outside counsel. So part of it was legal fees and part of it was because Bill Clinton ran for public office in 1978 and was Governor for a long time and Hillary was at a law firm but that was in Little Rock Arkansas so you are not bringing in millions of dollars every year. So I think it’s just the accumulation of having been in politics for 20 years, they didn’t earn a lot of money. And when Hillary ran for the Senate and Bill was out, I think they said now is the time to cash in.
Q: How has Trump come so far?
I think it is a reflection of the anger of the American people. I used an analogy, I don’t know if you watch American Westerns or anything like that, but there’s a Clint Eastwood movie called Fistful of Dollars. It’s basically about this town that has all these criminal problems and they have had all these hapless sheriffs that just don’t seem to get anything done and so what do they do? They hire this nefarious, nasty Clint Eastwood, to come and shoot up the town and clean it up. So my theory is that some portion of American voters are like that town. They feel that we are going to bring in this guy who is nasty to clean it up. And so when you say to them like in the movie, ‘Oh but this guy is rude,’ nobody cares. They seem to think that’s what it takes to clean up Washington. So I did not see this trend at all. I did not think that Donald Trump would get the nomination.
Q: Because when they say he is so relatable, how is he relatable?
People feel like he is genuine and unscripted. And they really get tired of the scripted and you saw that in the debates. Whatever people say about him, Trump is not scripted. I think a lot of voters found that refreshing.
Q: Would you describe this documentary as a wakeup call to America, maybe to the world?
Yes. I think it’s a wakeup call to America and to the world. It’s a recognition that government power can make people very, very rich and we shouldn’t tolerate it. And the bottom line is, if you have a leadership that is corrupt and self-enriching, and you support that, then don’t complain about what they do. Because they are going to make decisions for their benefit and for the benefit of people who put money in their pocket and not for the benefit of the average voter.