Leaders of Hillary Clinton’s campaign were forced on the defensive on Sunday, over apparent leaks from paid speeches the Democratic presidential nominee made to top bankers, whom she said she had fought for as a senator for New York and whose role after the 2008 financial crisis she said was misunderstood.
The leaked excerpts also exposed Clinton to uncomfortable questions about her true views on trade deals and the movement of labour, both hot-button issues in the presidential election against the Republican Donald Trump.
In interviews hours before the second presidential debate in St Louis, Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, said he could not verify whether the candidate had actually said what was in the excerpts, which were released by WikiLeaks through hacked emails from members of the Clinton campaign.
According to the excerpts, which were released on Friday, Clinton told Brazilian bankers she had a “ dream” of “a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders”, and told Goldman Sachs bankers Americans had misunderstandings about the financial crisis.
“ I have no way of knowing the accuracy of documents dumped by this hacking organization,” Kaine told CNN, noting that US intelligence officials have accused Russian security services of orchestrating the hack in order to influence the election. “If that is in fact true, then you cannot accept as gospel truth anything they put in a document.”
Pressed about Clinton’s positions, Kaine said: “I have no way of knowing that.”
The CNN host, Jake Tapper, insisted: “You could ask her.” Kaine replied: “I haven’t asked her. But you asked me about her position on trade and her position on trade is very clear.”
Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, similarly struggled to answer questions about the purported excerpts, including a 2013 speech to Goldman Sachs bankers which discussed Clinton having a separate “public and a private position”.
“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,” Clinton told the bankers, according to the excerpt. “So you need a public and a private position.”
Mook told CBS: “I think 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 tried to argue that Clinton had fought for financial regulation before the crisis and recession.
“Hillary Clinton went to the floor of the Nasdaq in 2008 and said that these swaps and derivatives, and what was going on with the mortgage lending market, was wrong and was going to crash the economy,” Mook said. “She’s called for closing the interest loophole for some time now.
“Her public position and what she’s going to fight for as president for are one and the same.”
Clinton did deliver a speech in March 2007, in the early weeks of the financial crisis, blaming mortgage industry practices and recommending a few reforms. She mentioned derivatives and further reform in November that year and on the campaign trail in 2008, well into the crisis.
Years later, however, Clinton told her Goldman Sachs audience it was “an oversimplification” to blame “our banking system causing this everywhere”, the email excerpts show.
“There’s a lot that could have been avoided in terms of both misunderstanding and really politicizing what happened,” she said in a 2013 speech, according to the leaked excerpts, “with greater transparency, with greater openness on all sides, you know, what happened, how did it happen, how do we prevent it from happening?
“You guys help us figure it out and let’s make sure we do it right this time.”
Throughout the Democratic primary, Clinton was accused of an overly comfortable relationship with Wall Street by her rival on the left, Bernie Sanders. He also mocked her for her refusal to release the text of the private speeches, saying: “I kind of think if you’re going to be paid $225,000 for a speech, it must be a fantastic speech.”
On Saturday, Sanders reaffirmed his support for Clinton, saying: “Whatever Secretary Clinton may or may not have said behind closed doors on Wall Street, I am determined to implement the agenda of the Democratic party platform, which was agreed to by her campaign.”
Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, insisted that the excerpts had been taken out of context. “There is nothing that she has said in private that she doesn’t say in public,” he told Fox News Sunday.
“She has said all throughout this campaign that she will crack down on Wall Street,” he said. “She has put forward the most aggressive Wall Street plan of any candidate, really.”
Referring to legislation passed in 2010 that took measures to re-regulate Wall Street after the 2008 financial collapse and recession, he added: “She stands behind Dodd-Frank, while [Donald] Trump wants to rip it away.
“People on Wall Street know how to game the system. What she wants to do is crack down on the system, make sure that there is no institution too big to fail and no person that’s too big to jail. That’s why Bernie Sanders yesterday, after looking at those scripts, says that he stands behind her.”
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Although divided by their own candidate, some Republicans seized on the speeches as evidence of Clinton’s penchant for secrecy, in line with her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the top advisers in Trump’s embattled campaign, said the excerpts would have been a deathblow to Clinton had they come out during the Democratic primary.
“Had those come out, Bernie Sanders would be the candidate now that we’d be running against, not her. She fought so hard to keep those secret – we now know why,” he told Fox News Sunday.
“She pointed out in one of them that she is a different person to them [the bankers] than she has to be politically,” he continued. “So we have two Hillary Clintons, which says we have a person who is a liar. Because that’s what she is. I mean, over and over again.”
Giuliani then tried to draw an equivalence between the recently leaked video of Trump bragging about groping women and the hacked emails. Both, he said, were “wrong”.
“So we’ve got two candidates who have flaws,” he said.
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